Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Deadline two met

News from the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario that the last locals (contract teacher and occasional) have tentative contract settlements went out at 22h30ish EDT Wednesday. Given the time involved, that means most of these deals likely came together with under three hours before the deadline.
No media hits in southwestern Ontario yet, but we'll see if it made it in time for the morning papers.

Off to D.C.

Another short hiatus from later tonight (keeping an eye on TVDSB and ETFO bargaining) until Monday evening. I am attending the National Education Writers' Association conference in Washington D.C. over the next few days.
The EWA is blogging the convention -- if you stick to the K-12 topics you can get an idea of the sessions I've been attending. Check back next week for my impressions of this U.S. education reporters' conference.

GRC stealth

The Ontario Ministry of Education released its governance review committee report April 22. I think I can count on one hand -- er, one finger -- the number of media hits this has generated. Kudos to Laura Cudworth for staying on this report and following up locally. I personally haven't read the report yet, but it's on the bedtime reading list for the next night I am struck with a bout of insomnia.

More SIF fun

Apparently the Ontario Public School Boards' Association (OPSBA) really doesn't like the School Information Finder. The association wrote a letter. The topic was also up for discussion at a recent series of regional OPSBA meetings. The flavour of its hatred? Some member boards in the association wants the site taken down, period.
This as media (and no doubt the blogosphere) continue to either a) wonder what all the fuss is about, really. Or, b) lambaste Minister Kathleen Wynne for taking away the "school bag" feature that allowed for comparison of schools.
I'd be curious to see what sort of traffic the SIF generates. We already know the site was down shortly after it was first launched, reported at the time as due to the volume of traffic. That would make for an interesting Freedom of Information request for someone with some time and the requisite $5.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Bargaining update

News today the Algoma District School Board has reached a tentative settlement with its contract teachers represented by the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario.
This means the Thames Valley District School Board is the only district board left in Ontario without any type of settlement for its contract teachers. *sigh*
The federation and Ontario Public School Boards' Association agreed Friday to extend their mutual deadline for the provincial framework (PFA) funding until the end of the day Wednesday, April 29. The TVDSB and ETFO-Thames Valley have a full day of bargaining set for Wednesday.
Given the board and federation are the only ones left to figure out how all this works, should they both be smacked upside the head and lose out on the $2.7 million (plus) in the PFA? This reporter increasingly thinks the answer should be YES.

On busing and consortia

First story on this issue to cross the desk, regarding a pilot project by Renfrew County boards to stagger bell times so buses can be double-run. Not a novel concept in and of itself, as many other boards across the country already do this. It does provide a launching point for a short history lesson and some comment.
Some three to four years ago, after decades of some boards haggling it out and coming to no agreement, the province mandated school bus consortia be formed across Ontario. It arbitrarily drew lines around the province and boards were told to begin the process of forming new corporations to manage all school transportation within each consortia's boundaries. Most consortia would have representatives from at least one English public and English Catholic board, along with their counterpart French public/Catholic boards. The governance of the consortia was, despite the size of the pot of transportation cash each board brought to the table, mandated that each board have equal ownership of the corporation.
Many of these consortia are now legally established corporations, with directors and education and whatever superintendent-level administrator responsible for transportation sitting as directors. Some consortia are in the first year of a three-year plan where they first bring together all the mapping and route planning without making any significant changes. In this stage the consortia are also harmonizing all the various boards' transportation policies, such as determining who is eligible for school bus transportation and who has to walk. In year two and beyond, each consortia starts rationalizing routes so that instead of two or three buses travelling down a road picking up students for individual schools, one bus picks all of them up and drops them off at each school along the way. The goal is fewer buses and lower transportation costs.
For 2009-10 this initiative is being given a few kicks in the rear end by the folks at the MinEd. Boards have been told they must reduce transportation costs by one per cent through route optimization. If they don't do so, the ministry will simply reduce their funding by an equivalent amount.
Sounds easy, right?
Add this to the mix and now it sounds a little weirder.
As part of the consortia process, efficiency and effectiveness reviews ("E&E" in ministry parlance) are being conducted across the province. But the reviews are leading to interesting ends. One local administrator responsible for transportation explained it to education reporter as such: If boards are "inefficient" and spend more than their calculated grant on transportation, the E&E review comes in and works with staff. If staff do a good enough job at explaining and rationalizing why the board needs to spend more than its grant, the E&E review could confirm and legitimize this overexpenditire and then, poof, the board's transportation grant is adjusted. If boards, however, are "efficient" and spend under their grant, after the E&E review comes in and confirms this the ministry would claw back the savings.
As the adminstrator frustratingly said, what's the incentive? If the board saves money on transportation in hopes of then diverting that funding to other programs or services where costs are above the grant, the ministry comes and takes the money away. If the board runs over budget on transportation for legitimate reasons, the ministry comes in and funds the transportation deficit. It's a model that encourages boards to spend up to the last penny of their transportation grant (or higher) so the ministry doesn't claw back any funds.
Given these issues, it should be an interesting day when the province moves to complete the consortia initiative by cutting boards completly out of the transportation game. The end goal here is to have the money flow directly to the consortia and have no direct funding from boards.

Orillia Catholic review

The articles on accommodation reviews where the community supports closure or consolidation always catch the eye as the daily clippings scroll past. This This is the Simcoe-Muskoka Catholic board's review of its elementary schools in Orillia and the surrounding area, where the committee is recommending consolidation of two schools into a new facility, with heavy focus on the new facility.
This proposed new school would be for 300-350 pupil places-- a number that depending on where you live can be a small elementary school or a large one. Knowing the area and the distribution of Catholic and public schools, this range is likely upper-middle in terms of elementary schools in the board, but likely would be one of the larger elementary schools in the board north of the City of Barrie. If the board accepts, it would mean a new facility for students where their body count would mean far fewer split-grade classes. The current schools have 100-150 students each, which likely means every class in the school is a split-grade grouping.

This marks about half a dozen reviews highlighted so far on this blog-- and with a 60-day timer on the receipt of each of these committee reports it means a very busy spring for trustees as they both setup their 2009-10 budgets and make decisions on these reviews before the summer break.

Bluewater update #4

Mr. Fix-It has come to the Bluewater District School Board to wave a magic wand and make all their problems disappear. No doubt, at a fee to the Ministry of Education of hundreds of dollars per day (along the lines of what those appointed by the ministry for other tasks in the past have collected. Two trustee-led, adviser-facilitated public meetings will be held and the board will now begin the task of rebuilding its tattered relationships with disgruntled parents and staff.
How successful can these two gentlemen be?

Sunday, April 26, 2009


I always get a kick out of reading this blog, supposedly by an Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario - Thames Valley member. In the last round of contract negotiations, this member had a blog under a different name-- s/he, with the claim the local's fettering away of common sense as it sticks to one or two principles the blogger says few members care about, calls the local prez Capt. Peanut Butter (his actual name is Phillip Mack). The peanut butter is what local members would be able to afford if they depended on the prez's abilities and also, just plain gooey and sticky and fun. Remember this local went on a work-to-rule the last round and required the personal intervention of then-minister Gerard Kennedy to agree to toss a retirement gratuity issue to arbitration. As a reporter, I can't quote from it in the stories I write for my employer, but often reference it to get a feel for the tone of the disgruntled within the local.
Today, s/he spills some beans about why the local apparently is among only two contract teacher locals without a deal. Just beautiful.
The lack of a contract has been covered by some local media.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Oh, dear -- again

Good lord-- this is the sort of story that's just Christmas come early for any reporter, never mind those with an equal interest in monitoring what boards do with money. The story writes itself. The boards I cover (not DSB Niagara) also tend to do sh*t like this every once in a while, though they usually confine themselves to an area hotel or the nearest Great Lakes beach. It's a win-win for people like us, and a lose-lose for the people who attend the conference. We want our educators to be well trained and up to speed on the latest developments in what they do with kids in classrooms. However, especially in leaner economic times, we want them to get all that training for free, in their own schools, without any travel, ever. Which always draws this response, from the original Standard article.
But District School Board of Niagara spokesman Brett Sweeney said the conference about assessing student progress was for professional development, something the Ministry of Education encourages and will improve local schools.
"Having the opportunity to develop professionally and learn and share that knowledge with their schools is important because it does provide a benefit to students in the end, and that is what's most important," Sweeney said.
The Toronto Sun had some success exposing trustee expenses last year and many sister papers were tasked with localizing these stories. Not all have, due to delays with Freedom of Information requests and appeals, but those stories have also shown trustees like to travel and seek professional development on the public dime. Again... it's a win-win for the critics and a lose-lose for the trustees.

Pools updated

So Toronto District School Board trustees threw a lifeline to a few more of their pools this week. Aside throwing out a bunch more cheesy lines mingling references swimming and drowning, etc. there isn't much more to say here on this, is there? Trustees have chosen pools over other needs in their system.

Deadline day plus one...

The deals were coming fast and furious throughout April 24, even into early in the morning on April 25. An updated list based on the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario is pasted below. Some surprises in the list coming out in the past 24 hours (this reporter expected Toronto to be one of the last boards to settle) and some units still unsettled which are not surprising in the least.
As of posting this, only the Thames Valley District School Board had not reached agreement on either contract. This comes as no surprise given the bargaining history between the board and the ETFO local in this district. In the last round of negotiations, then-minister of education Gerard Kennedy had to get personally involved to get the two sides to agree to toss a retirement gratuity issue to arbitration so they could settle a contract. (The board won in arbitration, FYI) Check out this blog for a taste of what some local members think of the local's leadership and ability to bargain. There is true animosity between the local and the board. I wonder how willing the membership is to just throw out $2.7 million in salary increases, working condition improvements and professional development dollars.
  • DSB Ontario Northeast - both settled (April 24) - $219,001
  • Algoma DSB - OTs settled (April 24), contract teachers still negotiating - $322,569
  • Rainbow DSB - both settled (April 25) - $491,716
  • Near North DSB - contract teachers settled, OT still negotiating (April 21) - $355,900
  • Keewatin-Patricia DSB - settled both - $153,710
  • Rainy River DSB - both settled (April 24) - $76,220
  • Lakehead DSB - settled both - $336,797
  • Superior-Greentstone DSB - both setted (April 19) - $29,154
  • Bluewater DSB - both settled (April 24) - $639,814
  • Avon Maitland DSB - both settled (April 25) - $598,558
  • Greater Essex County DSB - both settled (April 22) - $1,305,525
  • Lambton Kent DSB - both settled (April 25) - $810,141
  • Thames Valley DSB - none settled - $2,705,957
  • Toronto DSB - contract teachers settled (April 25), OTs still negotiating - $22,614,880
  • Durham DSB - both settled (April 24) - $2,410,141
  • Kawartha Pine Ridge DSB - both settled (April 21) - $1,226,215
  • Trillium Lakelands DSB - both settled (April 25) - $602,505
  • York Region DSB - both settled (April 21) - $3,958,401
  • Simcoe County DSB - both settled (April 25) - $1,883,835
  • Upper Grand DSB - both settled (April 23) - $1,166,621
  • Peel DSB - both settled - $5,383,764
  • Halton DSB - both settled (April 21) - $1,846,002
  • Hamilton-Wentworth DSB - both settled (April 25) - $1,861,193
  • DSB of Niagara - both settled (April 25) - $1,362,061
  • Grand Erie DSB - contract teachers settled (April 25), OTs still negotiating - $934,824
  • Waterloo Region DSB - both settled (April 23) - $2,132, 863
  • Ottawa-Carleton DSB - contract teachers settled (April 24), OTs still negotiating - $2,509,243
  • Upper Canada DSB - contract teachers settled (April 24), OTs still negotiating - $978,414
  • Limestone DSB - both settled - $703,879
  • Renfrew County DSB - both settled (April 25) - $305,630
  • Hastings and Prince Edward DSB - both settled (April 22) - $579,372'

Friday, April 24, 2009

Deadline day

Today is the deadline agreed to by the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario and the Ontario Public School Boards' Association in their provincial framework agreement by which contracts had to be settled.
There are still many boards and locals that do not have settled or ratified agreements in place as of this posting-- the deals have been coming fast and furious and a need for sleep will leave an update of the running list posted earlier this week until later in the day on Friday or perhaps even Saturday. Particularly since this reporter will be chasing the story of what happens next for the fine folks who pay his salary so he can afford the idle time to blog.

When's a credit not a credit?

This one keeps bubbling up to the surface on an almost annual basis. If memory serves, it was the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation Forum members' magazine that first caused some kerfuffle when one of its issues' lead article was on credit integrity. It pops up every now and again (for example, one of the issues supposedly in the BDSB, see early March posts) and this roundtable writeup crossed the desk today and generated some interest.
This one's a toughie since there's a lot of grey in between the black and white involved here if you're willing to spend some time considering it. It also has a chicken/egg or tail-wag-dog paradox embedded in the question of whether the Ontario Ministry of Education is lowering 'standards' so more students are 'successful.' Or does an increase in the number of 'successful' students simply give the impression that 'standards' are lower?
Admittedly, this reporter is not that old. Old enough to be from a time when some of his peers were held back a grade and when missing a deadline some times meant a failing grade. But young enough to be from a time where classrooms were inclusive, teachers differentiated instruction (although they didn't consciously call it that at the time) and when a missed deadline some times meant a 10 per cent reduction per day late.
However, this reporter was also in an academic stream-- with its frustrations and tribulations, but one well-suited to his learning style and needs. He was never destined to go into the workforce straight after high school. As a result, I can't speak intelligently on the experience of some of my peers whose destinations weren't the same as my own.
I do know many who have come through high school after me were not and are not being raised as resilient children. They are not being given the tools they need to understand the difference between success and failure and either's effect on motivation and perseverance. In the fear of crushing their nascent self-esteem and self-worth, others -- led by their parents -- don't let them fail, ever.
All that being said, this reporter still has confidence in the value of an Ontario Secondary School Diploma.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Pools in schools

It's a routine event-- Ontario's school board grants are announced and then shortly thereafter the annual pissing match begins between the Toronto District School Board, the City of Toronto and the Ontario government over the fate of 79 swimming pools located within TDSB schools.
First, some context:
Until 1998 when the Education Funding Formula was introduced, school boards and K-12 schools in Ontario were funded through a combination of grants that came directly from the province and a local education tax levied on property owners. Under that system, a ratepayer would declare their support (ie: public school system or Catholic school system) and the education share of their property taxes would be forwarded by the local municipality to that school board. Boards would annually approach local municipalities with their levy requests. Under that system, the education share of commercial and industrial property taxes was funnelled into the public boards. This setup resulted in a wide variance of richness-- boards in larger urban centres could lean on the plethora of commercial and industrial assessment in their district to support a far greater number of programs and facilities than Catholic boards and those in more rural, agricultural areas with poorer assessments. This is how the former boards in the Toronto area were able to afford the cost of building all these pools as part of their schools and then be able to pay for their operational costs. Also, as the cities were a big source of funding, there was more flexibility to allow for city staff to run programs in these schools, etc.
Other than an outright move to control all school funding, the funding formula was supposed to eliminate this unfairness across the province. No longer would the richness of your commercial and industrial assessment base determined the level of program and facility your board could provide.
The challenge is it forced boards like Toronto, Ottawa, London, etc. to realize how good they'd been having it all along. Going on 11 years later, it also leads to the annual pool-school issue in Toronto.

Redundancies in the KPR

On the same day as they were settling their elementary teachers' contract, Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board (think Peterborough and area) were telling the public they will need fewer teachers this fall. According to the article, this is the second consecutive year this board has declared teaching positions redundant as a result of declining enrolment.
This is the harsh reality of the decline in the school-aged population. It's going to be a roller-coaster ride for those who received notices Friday, as they await for retirements to be finalized and positions to be posted. Any positions or hours available as everything works its way down will likely be part-time positions, eagerly snapped up by less-experienced teachers in combination with short-term occasional postings.
This is early in the process to make such an announcement. At other boards, they usually wait until the deadline for staff to notify the board of pending retirement to pass before they start handing out the pink slips. For example, in Algoma, the board anticipates retirements, leaves, promotions, etc. will continue to outstrip the decline in teaching positions so that no layoffs are necessary.

Six-settlement day

The Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario reported today Tuesday six contract or OT locals reached tentative agreements in bargaining for their new four-year contracts. Rather than repost the list, for now, here's a link to the updated list of who has settled what and which deals still remain to be negotiated.
Time's a ticking-- although something became apparent in this situation Monday while this reporter was speaking to the Ministry of Education. The provincial framework agreement signed between ETFO and the Ontario Public School Boards' Association signed under the shotgun surveillance of Minister Kathleen Wynne stipulates the deadline is really up to the parties involved in negotiations. The ministry will pull the funding if the locals can't sign deals with boards by a deadline agreed to by ETFO and OPSBA. So far, that deadline is April 24.
I'm mighty curious to see whether that deadline gets extended.
Oh-- and one report of a contract issue crossed the desk today, kudos to the Lindsay Post. It even features comments from Earl Manners (that Earl Manners? Could it be? If so, that's rich).


OK. After a few requests and some thought, I've enabled the anonymous comment feature for this blog.
I'll admit I was hesitant to do so on receiving the first request-- I've seen too many other blogs where the comment sections overrun the blog's content and are filled with vitriol of those who seek nothing more than to spew uninformed, vile words onto a screen and then hide behind an "anonymous" identity.
I am aware of how that position plays against my own decision to run this blog anonymously.
Please behave yourselves out there.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Where is Pascal's report?

This has been a nagging thought of late. After spending months inquiring about when the Declining Enrolment Working Group report would be released, I await the next promised strategic document. With some fanfare, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty appointed Dr. Charles Pascal in November 2007 to conduct a review and recommend the best way of implementing full-day learning for four- and five-year-old children across Ontario.
The initial time line, based solely on this reporter's memory, was that Pascal was to consult people across the province throughout the remainder of the 2007-08 school year and into this past fall if necessary. His consultations were reported on sparsely, although everyone with a stake in early learning had their say. The Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario stepped forward to say only teachers -- their members -- should be considered adequate for the role of starting these youngsters along the path of formal education. The childcare providers, with their Early Childhood Educator staff members, indicated they're already doing a fine job in many cases with this same age group.
He was to report back in time to implement his recommendations for the 2010-11 school year, so the government could go to the electorate in the fall of 2011 with this early learning feather in its cap. So where's the report?
Interestingly, the Ontario Ministry of Education has basically told boards in its capital planning rules for the last year to ensure they're 'loading' all new construction based on full-day learning for four- and five-year-olds. This strongly suggests the location for this full-day learning will be in schools and not private (either for- or non-profit) childcare centres. Tell that to a child-care provider or a municipal child-care service manager and watch their reaction... it'll be an interesting one.
A recent e-mail exchange with the premier's office indicates Pascal's report is to be received "some time this spring," with no further details available on exact timing. Of course, the premier won't release the report until the government has prepared its response, which would likely involve cabinet consultation with ministers of education, children and youth and finance.

Huron ARC

This came from an e-mail that crossed the desk today-- over a report received by Avon Maitland District School Board trustees April 14 regarding an accommodation review in "Central East North" Huron County. This is the staff response to the ARC report, tabled with trustees March 31. The committee wants, in a particularly interesting set of recommendations, the board to close four community schools and build a school suited for approximately 650 full-time students. This is bold-- I don't think such a set of recommendations from a community / communities / parents has ever crossed this desk in over six years of reporting on education (nor the four years of study that preceded it). Some of those supporting the committee's recommendations have setup their own blog, where they lay out the meat of their point of view and rally others to the cause. The committee wants educational excellence for children in this area, recognizing the aging, smaller buildings their children currently attend will present growing challenges as the years pass. It's a novel set of recommendations for the committee to present, given the increased busing and larger school size it accepts. Most communities view these as a threat to their very existence as small-school people.
The staff response, however, opts for a three-school closure, along with sending a whack of Grade 7/8 students to F.E. Madill Secondary School (Wingham). Staff cite some operational (transportation) and programming reasons for selecting this option as the preferred option.
Let's all remember folks-- it's trustees who ultimately make the decision here. They've been presented with what appear to be two solid set of recommendations, which includes a set of recommendations from the community extending far beyond the status quo. At the end of the day however, it's up to those men and women to make the decision based on recommendations they receive.
I will comment, for a moment, on the community's outright disdain and opposition to having Grade 7/8 students attend class in a high school setting. (Full disclosure: This reporter attended JK-6 and 7-12 schools) School organization is one of the trigger-point issues in education, and it's universal. Parents want their children to be educated in schools that are setup like the ones they attended-- K-8, 9-12, or whatever system they're familiar with. They are extremely reluctant, in most cases, to consider alternate methods of arranging their schools. Any model you can imagine of splitting students into different buildings by grade exists out there-- if not in Ontario then in this country. All of them have the potential of offering a high-quality education. 7-12 high schools are not going to create monsters or open these youth to undue predation from more senior students (at least not any more than they are already at risk). It provides these children with excellent access to high school-level specialized teaching areas for science, music, visual arts, drama and physical education. Many of the same opportunities for leadership students in K-8 schools have still exist in a 7-12, in a different form. It also allows the Grade 6s who remain to now be in that position of leadership, which often many students are ready to accept.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Hooray! Budget coverage!

I *think* this is the first media coverage of the 2009-10 school year budgets, that Education Reporter is aware of. My own article sits in our queue, waiting to be published. Boards are working on these things right now... why hasn't there been more coverage?

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The contract trains get chugging

tYesterday's post doubted the ability of Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario provincial takeover team bargainers and school boards to be able to hammer out contract deals by an April 24 provincial deadline. As the day went by, three more contract teacher locals have inked deals, along with three more occasional teacher locals. Though federations will deny and always state they hate and abhor the concept of provincial bargaining, it's a matter of fact they already do it. Local members provide some direction to their executive, but when ETFO places every local in the province in provincial takeover before meaningful local negotiations have even begun, there's a co-ordinated strategy in place within the federation. The Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (who came away from this round of bargaining quietly, having achieved some success) does the same thing-- provincial bargaining staff were at the local tables from day one.
The point here, and the proof in the pudding, is when these deals start to come in. One or two locals works with a board to ink a deal everyone can live with and then it becomes a template for others across the province.
Looking at the locals who've settled, it appears a full-time contract teachers' template for northern / small boards appears established. It also appears an occasional teachers' contract template is nailed down as well.
Consider the following list-- it includes all district boards negotiating with ETFO, along with their contract status and the amount the Ontario Ministry of Education says the boards and teachers will miss out on if deals aren't signed by the deadline.
  • DSB Ontario Northeast - none settled contract teachers settled, OT still negotiating (April 21) - $219,001
  • Algoma DSB - none settled - $322,569
  • Rainbow DSB - none settled - $491,716
  • Near North DSB - none settled contract teachers settled, OT still negotiating (April 21) - $355,900
  • Keewatin-Patricia DSB - settled both - $153,710
  • Rainy River DSB - none settled - $76,220
  • Lakehead DSB - settled both - $336,797
  • Superior-Greentstone DSB - contract teachers settled, OT still negotiating both setted (April 19) - $29,154
  • Bluewater DSB - OTs settled, contract teachers still negotiating - $639,814
  • Avon Maitland DSB - none settled - $598,558
  • Greater Essex County DSB - OTs settled, contract teachers still negotiating - $1,305,525
  • Lambton Kent DSB - none settled - $810,141
  • Thames Valley DSB - none settled - $2,705,957
  • Toronto DSB - none settled (this includes their OSSTF locals too, which are still negotiating) - $22,614,880
  • Durham DSB - contract teachers settled, OT still negotiating - $2,410,141
  • Kawartha Pine Ridge DSB - OTs settled, contract teachers still negotiating both settled (April 21) - $1,226,215
  • Trillium Lakelands DSB - none settled OTs settled, contract teachers still negotiating (April 21) - $602,505
  • York Region DSB - OTs settled, contract teachers still negotiating both settled (April 21) - $3,958,401
  • Simcoe County DSB - OTs settled, contract teachers still negotiating - $1,883,835
  • Upper Grand DSB - OTs settled, contract teachers still negotiating - $1,166,621
  • Peel DSB - both settled - $5,383,764
  • Halton DSB - OTs settled, contract teachers still negotiating both settled (April 21) - $1,846,002
  • Hamilton-Wentworth DSB - none settled - $1,861,193
  • DSB of Niagara - OT talks broken down, contract teachers still negotiating - $1,362,061
  • Grand Erie DSB - none settled - $934,824
  • Waterloo Region DSB - none settled - $2,132, 863
  • Ottawa-Carleton DSB - none settled - $2,509,243
  • Upper Canada DSB - none settled - $978,414
  • Limestone DSB - both settled - $703,879
  • Renfrew County DSB - none settled - $305,630
  • Hastings and Prince Edward DSB - OTs settled, contract teachers still negotiating - $579,372'
Education Reporter will try and keep this updated as deals are signed in the coming days.

Friday, April 17, 2009

More elementary deals

The Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario has been reporting day by day on its contract and occasional teacher locals that are settling four-year deals ahead of an April 24 provincial deadline. Greater Essex District School Board (think Windsor if you're not familiar with board names) OTs are the latest, with advisories and pressers being released April 16 and 17. That's nine of 50-some OT locals done, along with only three full-time teacher locals.
There's one week left until the provincial deadline -- with a lot of money at stake if deals aren't struck. Curious-- could that deadline be extended given ETFO's provincial bargaining team is at every negotiation table? There are only so many of those folks around-- it might be a challenge to nail down over 45 agreements in seven days.

Private individual replaces "school bag" feature

This came across the desk today-- The National Post reported today that 34-year-old software designer Corey Fruitman has built his own website, School, where folks can go to do side-by-side comparisons of the details included in the Ontario Ministry of Education's own School Information Finder site. A previous post here, as well as numerous columns and news articles elsewhere, speak to the MinEd's decision to remove the "school bag" comparison feature the SIF originally contained after complaints from People for Education and elsewhere.
Fruitman said in a related blog post he launched the site April 16 for two reasons-- there are too many misconceptions over what EQAO data really means (agreed) and people overwhelmingly want this information. He also asks people to send him links to sites that congregate other public data available on school demographics.
In a related note-- the folks at the Toronto-based Society for Quality Education sent along a media release dated April 7 where they indicate they fully supported the school bag comparison feature and also believe this information should be as public and accessible as possible.
The Society for Quality Education supports any initiative that gives parents easy access to information that helps them make better decisions about the school they will choose for their children. The School Finder was a tool that put many indicators in one place and in context. “We are disappointed that the Minister buckled under pressure to remove the comparison feature,” said Executive Director Doretta Wilson. “Removing a tool that made it easy for all parents to compare schools will make it likely that only savvy parents will be in a position to choose the best school for their children.”

Well-- those "non-savvy" parents can head on over to School

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Quick hits -- bargaining, two accommodation review issues

Three quick hits tonight as time is pressing:

First, the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario and public school boards across the province are negotiating to an April 24 deadline on the shotgun-wedding February "provincial framework agreement" facilitated by the Ministry of Education. This crossed the desk today-- the first notice of talks breaking down between an ETFO local (an occasional teachers' local) and the District School Board of Niagara. This as ETFO reports six occasional teacher locals have ratified or tentative agreements in place, along with three contract-teacher locals. Time's a ticking to the deadline-- the ministry released a "B-memo" April 9 spelling out exactly what each board (any by extension its elementary teachers) would stand to lose in dollars and cents if they can't ink deals by April 24.
Oh, and don't worry about a strike-- it's the end of April, one- or two-week extensions would likely be given by the minister as long as bargaining continues in good faith. Many strike votes were simply suspended when the February framework was agreed to and have not been held. Teachers could work-to-rule heading into the last six weeks of the school year, but the chance they'd be willing to go on strike pay heading into summer vacation is rare. Let's face it, after that last week of June, no parent or student is going to give a rat's patootie if teachers are on strike or pay any attention to the issue until, say, they start cruising the back-to-school deals in August.

Second, a tidbit on the continuing fallout from an accommodation review of Niagara District Secondary School in Niagara-on-the-Lake. The board, in an unconventional decision, decided despite the numbers and dollars at play at NDSS, to give the school a two-year reprieve from closure. The challenge was simply to allow the community to work with the school and do whatever it could to increase enrolment, with trustees saying if enrolment reached that predetermined level the school would stay open. If it continued to drop as projected, the school would close. The larger issues at play drew some commentary in the local community paper. Interesting.

Third, something posted on previously, the Simcoe County District School Board's accommodation review encompassing high schools in Midland, Penetanguishene, Elmvale, Stayner and Collingwood. In the face of a committee report that was a "consensus" status quo, five-school option, school board staff have very predictably recommended to trustees closure of three schools and the construction of a new, larger school closer to Wasaga Beach. A few issues with this article-- the lead paragraph states:
Staff recommendations override suggestions made by the 40-plus member accomodation review committee for the north and west secondary schools.

Arrrgh. First-- the staff recommendations haven't overridden anything until a trustee vote and decision chooses those recommendations over the ones presented by the ARC. This lead shows an outright misunderstanding of the purpose of the ARC, which is to provide the affected communities with opportunities to make their own recommendations to trustees. The article and the sources quoted within also show a poor understanding and very typical reaction-- the board's decision is predetermined simply because staff members have stuck to their original recommendation or a recommendation that goes against an ARC's recommendations. In this case, the communities dug in their heels and didn't consider making any recommendation that might threaten their own high school. IE: Stayner had ideas of who should close, as long as it wasn't Stayner. This is how status quo consensus ARC reports come to exist-- the communities can't agree on one recommendation that would involve a school closure and so the de facto fallback is to say "go ahead and spend money (you don't have) on keeping every school open and giving each of them all the necessary facility and program upgrades." If staff members had ever agreed to that position, they wouldn't have asked trustees to begin the review in the first place. So it should come as no surprise when an ARC's recommendations don't address a need to reduce pupil places and upgrade facility that staff members would return to recommending options that complete those needs.
These communities might heed the ministry's own funding memo and regulations for 2009-10, where it clearly tells boards status quo is not an option in an era of declining enrolment. The days of receiving top-up funding that allowed boards to take five, six or eight years to respond to vacant pupil places is ending and the ministry and minister are firmly telling trustees they will turn off the tap much sooner than in the past if boards don't "respond" to their vacant pupil spaces quickly-- meaning within two or three years at most.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

SIF vs. the school boards

So People for Education isn't the only group out there opposed to the Ontario Ministry of Education's School Information Finder site. School boards across the province are starting to join the chain-letter writing gang regarding the SIF site and the easy, one-page shot at the information it provides. Lambton-Kent voted Tuesday to have its chair write a letter. Education Reporter knows the Thames Valley District School Board (to the immediate northeast of Lambton-Kent) had its chairs' committee examine the issue on April 8 and its chair will also now write a letter to Kathleen Wynne on the board's concern with the SIF website.
First a few errors-- the Daily News piece refers to the site's previous "school bag" feature that has been disabled since the initial PFE letter and online petition. The quotes also indicate trustees seemed unaware the site had been modified.

Chatham Trustee David Goldsmith raised the issue, stating: “I see potential havoc coming.”

He is worried what impact this could have on transportation and school boundaries if parents decide to try to shop around for a school.

Sarnia Trustee Paul Millman said the website has “stigmatized our students . . . it’s not right."

Gayle Stucke, LKDSB director of education, said the website “was deliberately set up to shop” for schools.

She said there was an indication the site was being created, but “there was never any understanding that it would be to this degree.”

It wouldn't surprise me if an Ontario Public School Boards' Association or other e-bulletin went out since the beginning of the month encouraging boards to oppose the SIF.
Here's the odd part though-- every school board in Ontario already has access to this very same data (and more, read a post from a few days ago) on every school in its own system. Some boards release this information through reports -- either to trustees and the public for background behind staff members' recommendations or in reports sent to the MinEd for tracking purposes. I return to the point expressed in commentary here and elsewhere-- if any trustee thinks some parents aren't already shopping for schools then they're completely ignorant of what is happening in their system. Why not see the SIF for what it is-- a data portal providing convenient access to basic information on a school.
Further, they already label and define schools as it is, by deciding and assigning additional resources and programming to schools. By selecting where things such as congregated special education -- be it developmentally challenged, Section 20 or gifted programs -- will find a home. By providing transportation outside of a student's usual attendance area for programs such as French immersion. They're part of the system that creates schools parents would rather send their kids to. The SIF doesn't change that in any substantive way.
There's also a faulty premise a parent would go the SIF, make their comparisons and then pick up and move their home so their child(ren) could attend the "chosen" school. Is it possible there exist out there parents who would do that? No doubt it is. However, it's doubtful most families have the ability to pick up and move to a 'better' part of town so they could live in an area where SIF shows a 'better' school.
Further, particularly since they already had this information, doesn't anyone stop and think maybe the ministry set up SIF to provide this information because school boards weren't?

Monday, April 13, 2009

Is it really about school safety?

This only took a few days to pop up in reaction to a still-developing set of circumstances around the strange disappearance of a Grade 3 student in Woodstock. For those living under a rock since April 8, Victoria Stafford's whereabouts remain unknown as of the posting of this article. Yet another thing that popped up while on hiatus last week.
The Sarnia article is a textbook localized story-- take an event happening elsewhere and start asking questions about whether or how it might happen locally. Talk to the comparable sources in your own community, mash it all together and pump out the story. Note the local media covering this story were at the school April 9 where a brief statement was provided by the school board's manager of public affairs and community relations Kate Young. She requested, perhaps rightfully so, that media not speak to students or parents as classes were dismissed for the Easter long weekend. The national media swamping Woodstock only arrived Friday, when school was already out. Given the pretty thorough canvassing of the school's neighbourhood over the weekend and of school-aged kids at the Sunday vigil, it'll be interesting to see what greets the students and staff at Oliver Stephens Public School Tuesday morning.
Yet this one makes me cringe a bit (likely because this reporter will be asked to write a very similar story on return to work Tuesday afternoon) since I question the starting point for this article -- that a school's safety had anything to do with the disappearance of Stafford. Just how responsible is a school and the staff who work there for student safety once the students are off the school grounds? Especially for those students who walk to/from school. At this particular school, because of the school board's walking distances, there are only two buses-- one for the congregated special education class' students and another for a minority of students at the school who live in a weirdly designed portion of the school's attendance area.
I can't imagine the difficulties that could arise from a scenario where this tragic situation leads to calls for school staff to increase the scope of their supervision before and after classes. Never mind the fact the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario has completely dug in its heels on student supervision duties. The union's take on the matter is no more than 80 minutes per five-day cycle and a 'what coloured glasses do these people wear' interpretation of Reg. 298 on teachers' legislated requirement on supervision before the start of classes in the morning and afternoon. An attempt in earlier provincial discussion table talks by the Ontario Public School Boards' Association to firm up the supervision clauses in contracts was dropped when Education Minister Kathleen Wynne mandated a shotgun wedding between the two groups in February to stop the pissing match going on in the press. As a result, the supervision clauses remain unchanged. This means at many schools -- including Stafford's -- it's the principal and vice-principal who are supervising the street access to the school and greeting buses in the morning and sending them off in the afternoon. Teachers and other staff supervise the playground and rear yard during these times. Short of expecting staff to personally chaperone every student to their own front door, there has to be a point where the handoff of responsibility for a student's safety goes from the school to the parent or guardian.
Is there much point in raising everyone's dander and, in particular, pointing fingers at schools for what's happened here?

Making friends

It all, slowly, comes together over time.
The Education Reporter has been added as a featured link at Crux of the Matter as well as at an Education Bloggers' aggregator, Ed News Blogroll. Ed News Blogroll has been discontinued (April 16) due to "lack of interest."
Spread the love people-- I'm glad to see others blogging about education and discussing the issues that often get overlooked by education beat reporters working for the traditional media (yes, I know... I'm one of them).
I would quote this section of my first post as a reminder and explanation of why this site exists.
Across Canada, there are very few media with full-time education reporters. In the newsrooms that have dedicated education reporters, the people doing the reporting don't remain at the education desk for long. Education reporting is not seen as a "sexy" beat for journalists and readers, listeners and viewers some times agree.
Yet education, particularly K-12 education, is the one thing we all have in common. Each and every single one of us went to school as a child-- even though we attended in different places and spaces, it's a common experience we all share.
Thanks to CotM for linking to here.

Does information provide power or help us discriminate?

Another thing that boiled up while on hiatus-- the Ontario Ministry of Education's School Information Finder website. In my office e-mail, I remember receiving an advisory regarding the launch of this service, which is a glorified conglomeration of information already publicly available for some years. It's the first time the information has been presented as a nifty little package with everything all tied up in a bow on one screen. Previously, you had to go to the EQAO website and search its database for school-by-school results. For primary class size cap information, you had to go to another MinEd website, the class-size tracker -- a site that when originally launched had information that was at least a full school year out of date but is now much better. To get the demographic data that's included in the SIF, you could be creative-- some was available within the student questionnaire results from EQAO testing (languages spoken at home, mother tongues)-- whereas a parent's post-secondary history is collected by StatsCan, if you're willing to cough up some dough to get census-tract level results. This is how school boards compile this data if they compile this data, and how the ministry does it as well.
The offensive, "controversial" element of the SIF was pointed out by People for Education, a Toronto-based non-partisan lobby group that represents parents and their concerns in publicly funded education. PFE didn't like the "shopping cart" type feature that would allow you to compare several schools' information on the same screen.
That open letter drew press coverage -- see here for one example -- and further coverage once the "school bag" feature was removed from the site. It also drew the attention of the blogosphere, although apprently more for PFE's politics than its point. This was followed by commentary (the best I've found is here, with a hat tip to the blogger of the last two links) indicating this website isn't the devil and the information it provides is valuable to parents. Of particular note was the point noting parents who can choose which school to send their child to already do. This is why French immersion programs are so popular (this reporter's own opinion, and fodder for an upcoming special project) -- they cater after the first few years to those whose parents are better educated than the average. Ditto, in some communities, for parents who choose to send their non-Catholic children to Catholic high schools. Why, even this own reporter's parents made the same choice-- what neighbourhood was the best they could afford a home in, which of the local schools was the most modern, most impressive and sound option for the education of their children. Full disclosure-- it was the local Catholic school.
Perhaps it's because this reporter already deals in the information presented on the SIF that I personally find it underwhelming. There is value in having this information in one location, on the ministry's website, accessible to all with a web browser. It's all public information, why not display it all on the same screen.
I find the site underwhelming because there's still so much that's missing... basic facility information such as how many classrooms the school has, when it was built and expanded. Does it have portable classrooms, or is the entire facility permanent accommodation? Has the facility ever been part of an accommodation review process?
Moving to the community level-- give me the other StatsCan information available down to a census-tract level such as median and average family incomes. Transience rates. Average value of homes. That information is available and it's out there for the taking.
Don't be naive enough to think the school board and ministry don't already have this information -- this reporter has written stories about how some of that data is being used to decide which schools get certain programs. I like data-based decision making, be it done at a school, board, ministry or parental level-- it's transparent and accountable. If the MinEd -- or for that matter any of the private Fraser Institute-type rankings -- want to really allow us to learn about our schools, this should be included in the school information finder as well.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

On diversity and inclusion

This past week, while on hiatus, the Ontario Ministry of Education posted a new strategy document, "Realizing the promise of diversity,"a 34-page document it says will guide the development of policies and programs to promote inclusiveness and diversity in the province's publicly funded school system.
Is this a feel-good initiative? Or will this document and the related policies actually effect change? This reporter can't tell right now.
One interesting thought-- look at some of the priorities in the latter years of the four-year plan included in this document. I'm wondering how Catholic boards will successfully complete some of these elements. Can a Catholic board -- including those (not all do) who require a baptismal certificate prior to accepting a child's registration in their elementary schools -- truly foster diversity and acceptance of cultures, lifestyles and choices that are in conflict with the church's teachings? Some boards will. Others, particularly in those parts of the province where the Catholic population is in the minority, already do everything they can to preserve and promote their Catholicity. It'll be interesting to see how they incorporate these initiatives.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

On siesta

I'll be away from the computer for a few days on a siesta... check back after April 10 for more news, analysis and information on K-12 education reporting.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Some template lovin'

Take a look at these valuation templates completed by the staff capital plan co-ordinating committee at the Thames Valley District School Board. As per the procedure, the board has produced a set of "pre" and "post" templates for an accommodation review committee in Woodstock. The staff recommendation is to close one school and consolidate at three other sites.
In combing through these, you can see how the board is trying to support the increased student outcomes that would be achieved by closing the one school, adding an addition onto another and program upgrades and small additions to the other two. There are a few interesting tidbits to these templates that leave one wondering.
Let's look at one school that has both a pre- and post-scenario template, Northdale Public School.
It might help to right-click and open these in new tabs or windows for this comparison.
On page one of the pre template, items F.4 and F.7 show the school doesn't have a primary activity room (a smaller version of a gymnasium) and that its general arts / instrumental music room rates a "needs improvement." The current board program standards call for elementary schools to have activity rooms to ensure students are meeting provincial Quality Daily Physical Activity mandates and to provide a larger gymnasium suitable for 13-year-olds. Similarly, its program standard calls for a 1,000-square-foot instrumental music / general arts room that would be setup for multipurpose visual, dramatic and musical arts.
Looking to page one of the post template, if you look at the same fields, these two items have changed from "not applicable" and "needs improvement" to "excellent" on both counts. This is part of the $307,000 figure (I.14 in the pre template) staff cite would be required to bring Northdale up to current program standards. In the post template this work has been completed and the template reflects that in its cumulative score.
There's another part that could be missed here-- in Section C of the template. In the pre template, it shows the school meeting expecations for Grade 3 math, Grade 6 reading and Grade 6 reading in the 2007-08 EQAO tests. "Meeting expectations" means the provincial standard of 75 per cent of students earning a Level 3 on that component of the EQAO test. For the unitiated, a Level 3 is roughly equivalent to a B or 70 per cent. Under the post template, which takes a large portion of students from the school proposed for closure and moves them into Northdale, the results of those students in the same 2007-08 EQAO test would have Northdale NOT meeting expectations in those same three areas. This isn't unique to Northdale as the other school Hillcrest students could attend which met expectations in 2007-08 Grade 3/6 EQAO results also does not meet these same standards once the Hillcrest students are merged into the existing student body on the template. For the record, the other school that may receive students didn't meet expectations in any of the relevant categories.
Add to that the money involved. The templates show the cost of bringing the four existing schools up to snuff (J.1) is a cumulative $3,523,000. By closing the school, shuffling students around and building/renovating spaces at the remaining three facilities, the cost is estimated at $4,985,000.
There are some questions just dying to be asked here-- why spend more money to build an environment that could produce lower EQAO ("student outcome") results? What other reasons are there for proposing this consolidation -- flexibility in staffing? Other pressures?
This committee should have an interesting time and stay tuned to see if these questions are asked and answered, and whether the information in the provided templates drives committee members to come up with recommendations falling outside the norm.
This little exercise also shows just how these templates can be a treasure trove of information...

Napanee ARC coverage

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Another ARC story

I'm always interested in seeing how accommodation review committees are covered and their ensuring recommendations to trustees across the province.
See this different example from the Simcoe County District School Board, a board featured previously here but this ARC deals with schools in the City of Orillia. The committee recommended closing two older schools located within 800 metres of each other and building a new school facility that would replace the two former buildings. It did so without recommending which site the new school should be built on-- Orillia District Collegiate and Vocational Institute or Park Street Collegiate Institute. The committee recommended relevant upgrades to the third school in the ARC, Twin Lakes. Trustees are scheduled to hear from the public at the board's Midhurst office in the coming months with a decision this June.