• Vote for Change - Natalie Waddell

    Delegation Process Safe…..For Now

    Know Where I Stand On This Issue

    Big thanks to Peter Shawn Taylor for coming the board meeting on Monday evening and covering the story on the pending delegation procedure debate.

    I stood in the old boardroom in October 2012 and spoke to the trustees publicly about these proposed changes to the delegation procedure. I went then because I didn’t believe the proposed changes were in the best interests of parents. I went back again this past Monday evening  because my convictions on this matter have not wavered. I fail to see how making it harder for people to express their thoughts in this public forum is in the best interests of the students. (Unfortunately I did not speak on Monday evening because the existing trustees deferred consideration of the motion again.)

    I pointed out to trustees in my last delegation on this matter that the plan was (and is) extremely detrimental to stakeholders’ abilities to come forward and share timely information with them. The passing of this motion will hinder the ability of stakeholders to communicate with all trustees directly as a group. It will hinder the ability of trustees to know what stakeholders’ concerns are. It will also act to hinder the fostering of the community engagement that they so outwardly profess to be seeking.

    But if there is any silver lining in all of this, it is that the motion won’t be decided upon by the existing board. There will be at least 2 new elected trustees (due to vacated seats), and given the number of high quality candidates seeking election, it might well be several more. Let’s all hope that the newcomers will come with fresh ideas and vote to defeat this motion in no time flat!

    Without a single doubt, my vote would be against these changes.

  • Delegation at Board Meeting

    Proposed Changes to the WRDSB Delegation Process Expected Make it More Difficult to Voice Your Concerns

    The recent incident where some trustees tried to muzzle me and prevent me from speaking publicly before they ratified the 2014/2015 budget has brought their plan to make it much more difficult for parents to speak and voice their opinions at board meetings to the forefront of my mind.

    In January 2012 six trustees started hatching a plan to dramatically revise the delegation process. Months passed while they ‘fine-tuned’ their proposed amendments. On October 22, 2012, a final report came to the board of trustees with a recommendation that they approve the amendments to the Board’s Delegation Procedures (section 4.12 of the Board Bylaw Article 4).

    At that time, the majority of trustees decided to postpone their decision on these amendments until September 30, 2014. Trustees Marg Johnston, Kathi Smith, and Kathleen Woodcock objected to this postponement. This decision to postpone leaves open the ‘threat’ of trustees reducing the ability of stakeholders to voice their concerns, questions, and opinions in a timely manner.

    Current Delegation Process

    Currently, there is a deadline of Thursday Noon for preregistration to appear as a delegation at the following Monday evening meeting. The meeting agenda and reports to the board are made publicly available on Friday (usually early afternoon), and there is NO requirement to provide copies of your presentation until you show up Monday evening to present.

    What happens if something comes up in the agenda/reports that you wish to speak to? If there are less than 8 preregistered delegations, then you can show up on Monday evening and request the board’s approval to speak. This allows the opportunity for you to decide to appear as a  delegation AFTER you have had chance to review the agenda and board reports.

    Screen Shot 2014-07-12 at 3.51.01 PM

    Proposed Delegation Process

    The proposed delegation process (to be considered on September 30, 2014, according to the Minutes) will require all delegations to be registered by Thursday Noon and registration is to INCLUDE a digital submission of their full presentation. This means you would have to prepare your presentation a full 100 hours before presenting it WITHOUT access to the relevant board reports (which are released on Friday).

    This proposed process would apply to both Committee of the Whole (COW) Meetings as well as regular Board Meetings. The only exception to the regular Board Meetings is that you can only appear as a delegation if you speak to something that is on the agenda.

    So what happens if something comes up in the agenda/reports that you wish to speak to? You would be out of luck. Last-minute delegations (i.e., arriving at the Monday meeting wishing to speak) would be eliminated. You would have to register as a delegation to appear at the next meeting. At this point, voicing  your opinion may be too late, if crucial decisions were already made.

    Proposed Delegation Timeline

    It is also interesting to note that the proposed changes would ultimately lead to elimination of all delegations at regular Board Meetings. Remember, at regular Board Meetings you can only speak to items on the agenda. But with the proposed process you have to register as a delegation (and write your presentation!) long BEFORE the agenda and board reports even become available on their website. So if you don’t have an ‘inside track’ on the agenda you will find yourself out of luck.

    Oh yes. One more critical proposed change. You won’t be able to appear as a delegation on the same topic more than once is a three month period – even if you are bringing new information.

    Things for Trustees to Consider

    Before making a decision on whether to support these proposed changes, trustees need to really consider what the purpose of changing the delegation process is really about. Media has suggested that the changes stem directly from the extended day debate where trustees were ‘inundated’ by parents wanting to have their say.

    My cursory research has not found a single school board in Ontario with such a restrictive delegation process.

    Taking away stakeholders’ ability to do relevant and timely presentations through the elimination of last minute delegations does not support the trustees’ advocacy role in helping bring parents’ and communities’ concerns forward.

    Hopefully this current Board of Trustees will, in fact, consider this decision very carefully when the time comes.

    “While democracy does not ensure that everyone will get exactly what they want, it does entitle everyone to a voice.”
    From page 33 of Good Governance: A Guide For Trustees, School Boards, Directors of Education and Communities

  • news

    Some trustees vote against hearing parent delegation

    Kitchener Post

    Why was there an attempt to muzzle me at last month’s Waterloo Region District School Board (WRDSB) meeting? Apparently they didn’t want to hear what I had to say — so much so that they publicly voted against granting the opportunity for me to speak before the ratification. I have to wonder what they are afraid of. Or why they don’t feel granting five minutes of time to a concerned parent is worth the effort.

    Read the Letter to the Editor

  • Trustees attempt to muzzle parent at WRDSB Meeting

    Some Trustees’ Attempt to Muzzle Me Failed

    Why was there an attempt to muzzle me at this month’s Waterloo Region District School Board (WRDSB) Meeting?

    On Monday evening of this week the WRDSB was set to meet and ratify their approval of their budget for 2014/15. As a parent and taxpayer I had concerns about this budget and wished to express these concerns publicly to the trustees before they ratified their decisions. For this reason I preregistered to appear as a delegation.

    Board meeting agendas are set where the consent agenda (i.e., where they approve minutes and ratify any decisions they have made during the month) comes BEFORE the delegations. Trustee Cindy Watson put forward a motion to move my delegation to before the consent agenda so that I could speak BEFORE they ratified their approval of the budget. This is a ‘normal’ practice when someone comes to speak about something that is about to be ratified. And in the last 3 years of attending WRDSB meetings I have never, ever seen a single vote cast against this sort of motion. It allows members of the public to express their concerns prior to a decision being ratified.

    However, at Monday’s meeting Trustees Mike Rasmay,  Andrea Mitchell and John Hendry all voted against this motion. Apparently they didn’t want to hear what I had to say – so much so that they publicly voted against granting the opportunity for me to speak before the ratification. Trustee Kathi Smith abstained. I have to wonder what they are afraid of. Or why they don’t feel granting 5 minutes of time to a concerned parent is worth the effort.

    Too bad for them though: democracy reigned and the majority of trustees allowed for the change in the agenda, which allowed me to speak ahead of their final approval of the budget.

    But it is this sort of sad demonstration by some trustees which leads me to firmly believe stakeholders need a change at the WRDSB. Please consider your options carefully when election time comes around this Fall.

  • Webcasts and Transparency

    Webcasting Can Improve Communication and Transparency

    There is no doubt about it. We live in a connected world. And for those of us with children at the WRDSB, we know that there is often a disconnect between stakeholders and the board — especially when it comes to communication. But the time has come for the Board to work on bridging these gaps in communication and engagement.

    A simple way to help bridge this gap is to embrace a technology that has been successfully connecting people from around the world for years. It is called webcasting.

    Webcasting

    In its simplest form a webcast is defined as “a video broadcast of an event transmitted across the Internet.” Webcasts can be distributed either “live” and/or re-broadcasted “on demand”. This technology would allow the public to view the public meetings and proceedings from their own home (or anywhere else they are connected to the internet), either when the meeting is happening or at another time that is more convenient for them.

    I believe that internet broadcasting of all public board meetings would go a long way in not only improving communication (which can lead to better engagement) but also aid in furthering the transparency of the school board’s operations.

    Ontario School Board Initiatives With Webcasting

    In January 2010 Thames Valley District School Board sent out a survey to 13 other school boards to determine who was already utilizing this technology. In April of that same year Bluewater District School Board reported that of the 13 boards asked 5 were already utilizing webcasts for their public meeting. These boards were:

    • Bluewater District School Board,
    • Trillium Lakelands District School Board,
    • Thames Valley District School Board,
    • Toronto District School Board, and
    • Upper Canada District School Board.

    That was 4 years ago. My cursory research today turned up 2 more:

    • Halton District School Board, and
    • Simcoe County District School Board.

    Financial Considerations

    I would be remiss if I hadn’t explored the potential costs associated with this sort of implementation.

    High End

    Bluewater District Public School Board recommended a budgeted $15,000 in order for them to continue with their webcasting in 2011/12.  This level of investment included the purchase of the required equipment (that was loaned to them during the pilot project), as well it provided them with TV-quality productions which could then be played back on the local cable television channel.

    Less Expensive Alternatives

    Upper Canada District Public School Board appears to use a 3rd party provider who offers webcasting services to school boards for $7,500 per year. According to this company’s website information, this includes the hardware, software, live broadcasting and archiving of the webcasts for future rebroadcasting on demand.

    But as someone who has made a living working with the internet for the past 15 years, I think it is possible to further reduce the annual spend necessary by purchasing the equipment up front and hosting and archiving these webcasts internally.

    What About The WRDSB?

    So I have to ask, why is the Waterloo Region District School Board — that prides itself on being leading edge and ahead of the curve — so far behind when it comes to leveraging this simple technology? Surely it isn’t cost.

    If they do ultimately role out an initiative to webcast public meetings, they may want to consider taking it a step further and to allow delegations to appear remotely through the use of Google Hangouts (or some other similar service). Allowing delegations to appear remotely might just reposition themselves as leading edge, in addition to increasing communication and engagement with those stakeholders who might otherwise not be able to appear in person.

    What Do You Think?

    Do you think there are benefits to the WRDSB webcasting and archiving their public meetings? Do these potential benefits outweigh the associated costs?

     

     

  • Failing Grade

    Parent Communcation and Engagement

    In the past several years, while I have been attending the public WRDSB meetings, one thing has become very clear to me: parents and community members are often ‘caught off-guard’ when it comes to decisions being made by the administration and/or the board. Too often there are stories in the local newspaper where people feel they were neither consulted nor communicated with regarding important decisions. You just have to look at the child care issue, the removal of trees from Empire Public School, and the changes to bell times in 2011/12 as examples.

    Interestingly enough, in 2013 the Board approved one-time funding of approximately $86,000 to hire a consultant to help the Board develop an ‘Engagement Strategy and Plan’. The interim report on this consultation was presented to the Board of Trustees on June 3, 2013. No surprize here, but stakeholders of gave the WRDSB failing grades in all the key drivers of engagement that were considered in the study.

    Accountability

    The survey results reported there was clearly a lack of understanding about the school board and its roles and responsibilities with external stakeholders.

    Consistency

    It was found that communications from the school board were inconsistent and that engagement didn’t happen at regular frequencies and with a consistent decision making process.

    Involvement

    Stakeholders reported there were a lack of 0pportunities to be involved with the school board and to provide opinions.

    Transparency

    Stakeholders did not understand when and why their input was required and how it was to be used. They felt that the rationale for  decisions was not always provided or evident.

    Integration

    Stakeholders felt that the Board’s use of a ‘one size fits all’ approach to decision making resulted in the exclusion of some Stakeholders from consideration.

    What Does This All Mean?

    The results of this survey told the Board that they were clearly failing when it came to parent communication and engagement. But were they actually listening??

    The final report from the consultant was presented  on June 17, 2013. Part of that report included:

    1. a “comprehensive and measurable engagement strategy and plan” and
    2. an “approach, framework and tools for the School Board to engage its Stakeholders”.

    It is what we – the taxpayers – got for the $86,000 forked over to the consultants.

    But Has Any Of It Actually Been Implemented?

    In typical fashion, stakeholders don’t have a clue as to whether or not anything has been done.

    The trustees passed a motion on June 17, 2013 instructing the administration to:

    1. “develop an engagement policy to include the Engagement Framework”, that they
    2. “develop an implementation plan”, and to
    3. provide a “progress report” at the “first Committee of the Whole meeting in December 2013″.

    To this day, there has been no progress report provided publicly.

    In June of 2013 Past Director Linda Fabi commented to the trustees that they “should keep in mind that this process will not happen overnight and it will take some time”. I guess the definition of “some time” is at least a year or more just to get a progress report on the situation.

    And where are our current trustees in all of this? Who knows. But if I were on that Board I would definitely be a squeaky wheel and request that progress report be delivered. Instead, we haven’t heard a peep and stakeholders are left in the dark as to the progress on the development of a communication and engagement strategy.

    How very ironic.

     

  • Whistle Blower Hotline

    Whistleblower ‘Hotline’ Needed for WRDSB

    I have had this thought ‘rattling’ around in my head for months now. The Waterloo Region District School Board should establish an anonymous whistleblower ‘hotline’ for students, parents, staff, administrators, and public to allow them to safely report any wrong-doings they observe.

    My original thoughts on this idea were so parents could report things directly related to their children and their school – without fear of repercussions on themselves or their children. They could then easily report safety issues, vandalism,  etc.

    But given the fact that the WRDSB is now facing another $4M deficit this year, I believe that establishment of such a service is even more important and goes far beyond parents simply wanting to stay anonymous.  The spending levels at WRDSB – in my opinion – appear to be spiraling out of control.

    And who is probably best positioned to see the wasteful spend? Staff, of course.

    Establishing a whistleblower hotline for parents, staff, administrators, and public would provide an anonymous venue for them to report a wide variety of issues, such as (but not limited to):

    • questionable spending, accounting, auditing,
    • theft,
    • fraud,
    • conflict of interest,
    • improper use of resources,
    • safety concerns,
    • substance abuse,
    • vandalism,
    • violation of board procedures and/or policies, and
    • much more.

    Not only would a hotline be beneficial to parents, but it might just help decrease the deficits of the future!

    What do you think?

     

  • Modular School in Alberta

    Ontario Not Heeding Alberta’s Lesson On Building New Schools

    Re. Province to fund three new area schools

    While the Province of Ontario shells out roughly $700 million this year to build new schools in areas where the population demands, school boards continue to close schools in areas where they are no longer needed. School boards around the province also continue to invest in portables – at $75,000 each – to temporarily accommodate children during years of excessive population or while the community awaits a newly built school.

    Meanwhile the Alberta government has been proactive in addressing the infrastructure costs associated with the build and operations of elementary and secondary schools. Starting in 2007, Alberta undertook a project that involved an innovative approach to new school construction which included the design, build, finance and maintenance of 18 modular schools.

    These modular schools, that come with 40 year warranties and a long-term maintenance contract (i.e., in this case 30 years) can assure that the schools are always in good working condition. The development of this type of school can lead to significantly earlier openings in comparison to the traditional builds. And they also allow for classrooms to be easily moved from a school that is underpopulated to a school that is experiencing over-enrollment pressures.

    The Alberta modular schools project was extremely successful. For those 18 schools – now built and on a 30-year maintenance agreement – Alberta estimates that it will realize an overall savings of $97 million dollars (in today’s dollars).

    But what will it take to get the Ministry of Education to explore the possibility of funding modular schools in Ontario? Perhaps it will simply take some forward-thinking school boards to push the issue. If the development of modular schools can lead to decreases in maintenance costs (which are traditionally paid for by the school boards’ budgets), then the money saved could ultimately end up in our children’s classrooms where it is very much needed.

  • news

    Board should create a concussion policy

    Waterloo Region Record

    I grew up in the 1970s, when the public elementary schools flooded the playgrounds and created rinks, and we skated at lunchtime.

    We didn’t wear helmets, simply because it was before society became aware of head safety and the serious — and often permanent — health implications that even the slightest jolt can cause. It wasn’t until 1979 when helmets became mandatory equipment in professional hockey that people started to notice.

    Last year, the Ontario Injury Prevention Resource Centre reported there were 928 emergency room visits in 2010 involving concussions caused by falls while either skiing or skating. A helmet will not prevent concussions in all cases, but there is strong evidence that in most cases, they can prevent them, or at least reduce the seriousness of them significantly.

    In light of the mounting research on concussions and the impact they have both in and out of the classroom, the Ontario Liberal government introduced Bill 39, Education Amendment Act (Concussions), 2012.

    This bill, if passed, would require every school board in Ontario to establish policies and guidelines respecting head injuries and concussions. The Toronto District School Board was the first in Canada to create a concussion policy and safety program. It did this in 2011, even before this bill was introduced.

    Read the full letter at therecord.com

  • 2210490236_7b2f968185_o

    Board Should Develop Concussion Policy

    Re. New helmet rule disrupts public school skating

    I grew up in the 1970s, when the public elementary schools flooded the playgrounds and created rinks, and we skated at lunchtime.

    We didn’t wear helmets, simply because it was before society became aware of head safety and the serious — and often permanent — health implications that even the slightest jolt can cause. It wasn’t until 1979 when helmets became mandatory equipment in professional hockey that people started to notice.

    Last year, the Ontario Injury Prevention Resource Centre reported there were 928 emergency room visits in 2010 involving concussions caused by falls while either skiing or skating. A helmet will not prevent concussions in all cases, but there is strong evidence that in most cases, they can prevent them, or at least reduce the seriousness of them significantly.

    In light of the mounting research on concussions and the impact they have both in and out of the classroom, the Ontario Liberal government introduced Bill 39, Education Amendment Act (Concussions), 2012.

    This bill, if passed, would require every school board in Ontario to establish policies and guidelines respecting head injuries and concussions. The Toronto District School Board was the first in Canada to create a concussion policy and safety program. It did this in 2011, even before this bill was introduced.

    (Note: This letter was published in the therecord.com.)

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