Sunday, May 22, 2011

Impending hiatus

The blog will be on a short hiatus until at least May 30.
Please come back and look for new posts after that date.

How to shelve the library question

I've been watching the discussion, coverage and analysis over the People for Education report on libraries that was published almost two weeks ago.
As expected, Minister of Education Leona Dombrowski's response was to tell parents to get angry with their school board trustees. As annoying as it is to hear that, she's right. Trustees control budgets and if they want to staff their libraries they can make it happen-- though it is by finding somewhere else that needs the money less.
Particularly rich was PC education critic (and herself the last PC minister of education) Elizabeth Witmer's response that urged Dombrowsky and the Liberal government to ensure librarian positions were being properly funded. Rich because Witmer received the Rozanski report in 2002-03, which called for school-based funding for a bunch of things similar to librarian positions. Also rich because Witmer's PC predecessors created the education funding formula that still stipulates exactly how many students are needed in one location before that school gets a full-time teacher-librarian.
Witmer's response is on my work computer, I'll PDF it and post it here if I get the opportunity.
The reality of that student-based formula is that very few elementary schools have large enough student bodies to generate the funding needed for a 1.0 teacher-librarian. Secondary schools are a bit different, but as declining student populations work their way through this panel in the coming six-to-seven years, it'll be an increasing reality there too.
The vast majority of elementary schools have partial teacher-librarians. In many, this is one of the teachers who does prep-time coverage for her/his counterparts-- often the time when that class may be using the library under that teacher-librarian's guidance or some times teaching some other subject.
The smaller the student population, the less time that person has to spend in the library. I shadowed a 0.2 teacher-librarian a few years back (who had 0.3 prep-time coverage on her contract, so she was in school every other day) who had little time to do much but manage student volunteers who reshelved books and take care of administrative stuff. As it happens, the library in this particular school was a converted classroom, so it wasn't the ideal library space to begin with.
Want to fix this problem?
Take the teacher-librarian position out of the portion of the GSN based on student population. My terminology may be slightly out of date, but back in 2004ish, the Liberals moved principals and other non-classroom staff to school-based funding (they called it school foundation grants at the time). So boards got funded to hire someone to full-time hours per school, independent of school size. Take funding for 1.0 teacher-librarian per elementary school and put it into this school-based funding. That ensures every library is staffed, but it does come at the cost of that position's wages and benefits. Given the expected but softer declining-enrolment attrition once full-day kindergarten is staffed, it might work out without needing to add to the employee rolls.
Given the demonstrated benefits of having a staffed school library, it should be worthwhile.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Budget time, where the rubber hits the road

The next five weeks are when it all happens.
The provincial budget has been passed, the regulations on the grants for student needs, education capital funding and "education priorities: other" or EPO funding needed for school boards to pass their 2011-12 budgets have been passed.
Now is the time when boards of trustees sit with the information given to them by their director of education and the staff members who work under that person and decide what the budgets are going to look like.
Here's what's known--
The commitments made at provincial discussion tables for wages and benefits are funded. Which, in this year, means all teachers are getting 3%, as are most other employee groups whose unions participated in the last round of negotiations.
Little to no money was provided for wage and benefits for any other employee groups that aren't included in that last paragraph.
The two-year freeze on computer equipment has been extended by a year.
Full-day kindergarten funding, based on average daily enrolment counts and projections, is fully funded through the GSN and FDK envelopes for the 26:1 student: teacher and matching education assistant ratio. But since kids don't come in bundles of 26, school boards are going to have decisions to make in those schools where they cannot shuffle the deck to get appropriate JK/SK classes and must consider JK/SK/Grade 1 splits.
All of the capital projects approved for FDK and other priority programs are funded.
For more than a few boards, 2011-12 is the first year their high school enrolments are dropping. Which means a lot of boards across the province will be issuing notices this spring and a lot of teachers will be keeping their fingers crossed to see how many of their colleagues retire this summer or take leaves.
Transportation, maintenance and utility costs have risen by a percentage factor.
Special education funding remains a crapshoot, particularly in the sections of the funding tied to specialized equipment and services.
Will there be cuts that extend beyond what would be expected? Part of that is up to trustees. As late as 10 days ago boards had not yet been able to access the final version of the ministry software / website where they plug in their particulars to generate their budgets.
However the task begins. While typing this, one alert came across for a board looking at its budget. Not but a few paragraphs, but a sign of what lies ahead.