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Adequate, Equitable Funding for Education

Yesterday’s board meeting held an important discussion for Trustees. We discussed a motion put forward by our Board Chair on the necessity for adequate, equitable funding for education:

RECOMMENDATION
That the Board of Trustees advocate to the Government of Alberta that they clearly communicate changes to the funding framework for education to Edmonton Public Schools prior to implementation and consider suggestions from Edmonton Public Schools on the draft of the framework.

Further, be it resolved that the Board of Trustees advocate for adequate, equitable funding that takes into account enrolment growth, ensuring that all children receive the support they need to be successful.

This motion was incredibly timely because our board is only just coming to terms with the impact of the provincial budget announcements.

Provincial Budget

The province has frozen K-12 education funding at 2018 levels ($8.2 billion dollars) with plans to continue this freeze of funding at $8.2 billion dollars for the next four years. This freeze is significant because by the end of the next four years, there will be an estimated 60,000 additional students in the K-12 education system in Alberta, with no new funding.

That number is a large number – 60,000 students is enough to fill 150 elementary schools or 30 high schools.  If there is no new funding entering the system, the only way to provide teachers and EAs and custodians and supports to these additional students is to re-allocate resources from currently existing schools.  This waters-down the supports that our provincial system can provide to students and increases the demands on teachers and staff who are already working hard in incredibly complex classrooms. In my opinion, that means that there will be less supports for students, and a higher chance of students slipping through the cracks in our system. And in a city like Edmonton, where our board has seen increases in students by at least 3% every year,  the effects are cumulative for every year that passes without additional funding.

Funding Formula Review

The Ministry of Education is currently in the process of reviewing how this money will be distributed to all of the school boards within the province.  Our board discussed the importance of being engaged in that process so that we can discuss the needs of Edmonton Public students while the province makes decisions about how the budget of $8.2 billion dollars should be split between all school boards and schools in this province.  We stressed the need to be informed ahead of time regarding any changes so that we are not in a position of having to respond to important funding changes mid-way through the year.

More importantly, our board discussed the importance of adequate and equitable funding.  Because adequate funding means enough resources to ensure that every student in our province has what they need to be successful – and this includes a well-supported teacher in a manageable classroom size, supports from EAs, mental health therapists, and a strong inclusive learning team. In order to do this, when our school board grows, we need funding growth to maintain these supports.

Our board will be working hard in the coming months to engage with parents, students, staff and community to listen to your values, your priorities and your concerns.  We will be working hard to make some difficult decisions together with our communities and will be doing everything we can to put the needs of our students first.  If you have a question or concern, or would like to share you thoughts with me, please reach out to me: shelagh.dunn@epsb.ca.

As always, you can watch our board meeting on You Tube:

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Board Update: October 22, 2019

Today’s board meeting was short but there are some important highlights (full meeting package and minutes are available online):

Remarks from the Board Chair:

Board Chair Estabrooks expressed that the board will be looking towards the budget announcement on Thursday, October 24th, and will be holding the government to the promise that funding for education will be maintained or increased.  Chair Estabrooks also remarked that education funding is an investment in the future.  She shared the reality that Edmonton Public Schools will be out of high school space by 2022 if a new high school is not built in the south east.

On class size funding, Chair Estabrooks expressed that our board believes it is possible to roll this funding into our overall base funding and that reducing overall funding for class sizes is a concern and an item we will be watching closely, as we look forward to future conversations.

Student senate workplan: Our three Student Trustees were sworn into office today and they discussed with the board the student senate’s work in distilling student feedback on improvement needed in the student experience to four themes: mental health, diversity and cohesion, environment, and life skills.  The student senate reported the decision to focus in depth on the theme of life skills for this year and will work towards a student symposium at the end of May.

Board chair notice of motion: A notice of motion was provided by Chair Estabrooks for discussion at our next board meeting, that Edmonton Public School Board advocate for adequate, equitable funding that takes into account enrolment growth.  EPSB has had 9 years of 3% enrolment growth, and it is likely this trend will continue.

A thank you to ASCA: I had the opportunity to thank the Alberta School Council Association for partnering with me to visit School Councils in Ward C to talk about the resources available for School Councils, and the importance of School Councils as a voice in their local school, for the board and as a voice for education in the province.

Board of Trustees with Student Trustees
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Board Update: October 8, 2019

Yesterday your Edmonton Public School Board of Trustees met for the third time this school year.  Our board meetings so far this year have been important and I’ll offer a summary below, but our full meeting package and minutes are available online.

Report on the District Feedback Survey:

The board received a report on our annual District Feedback Survey. This survey includes questions required by the province of Alberta for their annual report on accountability in education.  It also includes questions developed by Edmonton Public Schools for parents, students, staff and community partners.  I find this report interesting because it shows the areas of strength for our school district and it also shows the areas where we can look deeper for improvement.

Strategic Plan Update Report: Early Years:

Our board requests update reports on the board’s goals and strategic plan.  This report focused specifically on the work with students in the early years, before entering grade one. We heard about the wonderful partnership with Kitaskinaw Education Authority (KEA) of Enoch Cree Nation.  This project aims to build relationships between Enoch Cree language advisors, Elders, Knowledge Keepers, project staff and members of the cohort from the two jurisdictions, with a focus on using literacy-based activities in both English and Cree using culturally informed activities.

Report on the use of seclusion:

A report came back to the board on the use of seclusion rooms in the district, and the numbers were quite startling.  It is the first time these numbers have been tracked centrally at Edmonton Public Schools and the first month of using the new administrative regulation on seclusion rooms. The board and the administration engaged in a difficult but important conversation about the need to do better. We heard how work is being undertaken to prevent, minimize and eliminate the use of seclusion rooms. Board members heard about efforts to flag multiple uses of the room, and the response to work with staff to find alternatives. An example was given of the inclusive learning team visiting a school with multiple uses, spending time in the classroom to reshape strategies being used to support the student who had been placed in a seclusion room, and putting new training in place.  The board heard about consultants assisting a principal to reflect with a teacher after using a seclusion room, on what they could have done differently so that a seclusion room is not used in the future. This was important to hear, as I believe that it reflects how we can learn and change, how we can better support teachers, staff and students and work towards eliminating this practice. We also heard that administration will continue to bring updates on this data back to public board.

Our board meetings are always up on YouTube:

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Board Update: September 24, 2019

Yesterday your Edmonton Public School Board of Trustees met for the second time this school year.  It was a meeting that was longer and more emotional than most, with a total of 12 registered speakers from the public and some thoughtful debate.  I’ll offer a summary below, but our full meeting package and minutes are available online.

Remarks from the Board Chair:

Board Chair Estabrooks reminded the board of the history of Orange Shirt day, a day marking the impact of residential schools on September 30th.

Report on Community Involvement in Schools:

The board received a report on Family Engagement. Trustees asked questions about the new format of SchoolZone, School Council activities, and the Inclusive Education Parent and Community Advisory Committee, which received 91 applications for 5 spots.  I hope to hear more about the work of this committee and the First Nations, Metis and Inuit External Advisory Council.

Motion on involuntary confinement:

At our last meeting, I tabled a motion on the use of involuntary confinement in schools. The board heard from 11 speakers on this issue, including an eight-year old student of Edmonton Public Schools, and it was important for us to hear the experiences of parents and students who have been impacted by this practice.  The board ultimately passed a motion to advocate to the province for standards which clearly specify that these rooms only be used in emergency situations, and to work towards a system where these rooms are not needed or used. Trustee Ip amended a further motion to implement a timeline for preventing and phasing out this practice in Edmonton Public Schools which was tabled for further discussion.

Motion on climate strikes:

Trustees passed a motion by Trustee Janz to suggest schools in the District neither encourage or penalize students to attend the September 27th Day of Climate Action, with parent consent.  The board heard from one speaker on this motion, who is a student of EPSB and spoke to the need for adults to tackle the issue of climate change.

More to come:

Some reports were carried over to our next meeting, October 8th, as the discussion ran well into the evening.

On a personal note, it was wonderful and encouraging to see so many registered speakers at our board meeting.  Public education is a cornerstone of democracy, and it is important that a public school board hears from students, parents and community when making decisions.

Our board meetings are always up on YouTube:

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Motion on Involuntary Confinement

Tomorrow, our board will be debating and voting on a motion I put forward on the use of seclusion rooms and involuntary confinement in school.  I have introduced this motion because I believe that our board needs to have a public debate about this issue, to provide input to the provincial government while they gather feedback on the Interim Standards for Seclusion and Physical Restraint in Alberta Schools and the Interim Standards for Time-Out in Alberta Schools, and to advocate for necessary changes.

Trustees have heard from parents who have described feelings of powerlessness when their child has been restrained or confined, and we’ve heard from teachers and staff who are trying their best to meet the needs of their students and who tell us that they need seclusion rooms to keep people safe. But I don’t think that there is a teacher or staff member who wants to place a student in involuntary confinement.

When seclusion rooms are the solution to a problem, then I believe we need to start tackling the problem. To work on it, we need to think systemically and look at the big picture of education in our province.  With this motion, I am hoping to look at what we can work towards: a system where seclusion rooms are no longer needed or used.

The first part of this motion is re-affirming the first step: ensuring that no student is placed in a room involuntarily as a way to manage their behaviour or as a form of punishment.  To re-affirm that these rooms should only be used as a last resort in an emergency situation to keep people safe.  I believe that this is already spelled out in our District’s new administrative regulation, District Seclusion Rooms.  The main addition to this discussion is clear advocacy to the province to ensure that dedicated time-out rooms are also not used as a form of punishment or behaviour management.

I also think that we need to start looking beyond that, at the next steps, at what needs to change with our system so that we can work towards better supports for our students and teachers and staff. The second part of this motion allows our board to discuss and take a position on what needs to change to make sure that our system of social supports, health care, and education are working together, to make sure that we have the right professionals, the right training, the right supports, and the right funding so that we no longer need or use these rooms.

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Board Update: September 10, 2019

Yesterday your Edmonton Public School Board of Trustees met for the first time this school year, it was a short but important meeting. Here are the highlights:

Remarks from the Board Chair:

Board Chair Estabrooks highlighted the impact of not having a current provincial budget on the decisions of the board and schools, in addition to the impact of the newly introduced Education Act and additional regulations.  She discussed the McKinnon report, our board’s concern about potential cuts to education, the need for predictable, long-term and sustainable funding for all students, and the need for this funding to not be tied to student performance.

Report on School Nutrition Program:

The board received a report on the impact of the School Nutrition Program. Trustees expressed how delighted we were that the government of Alberta released news yesterday that this $15 million dollar program will continue to receive funding for this school year.  Edmonton Public Schools receives $1.2 million from this fund, which allows us to provide a nutrition program for students in 22 schools.  The board heard how important this program is, as 1 in 10 Edmontonians is currently living in poverty. In this discussion, Trustees also heard that at least 77 schools are providing some form of food program to students, with help from  many community partners.

The report described how a nutrition program can increase learning, attendance and positive behaviour. I believe it is also a necessary part of well-being, a word now included in Education Act as part of the responsibility of boards. When we think about student well-being, I am reminded of an important theory called the Hierarchy of Needs which describes that physical needs such as food, clothing, and shelter are the foundation of well-being, necessary before social and psychological well-being needs can be met. For many students, schools are a secure foundation of learning, achievement and well-being, and the critical importance of a universal nutrition program in schools can’t be over-stated, as it allows us to maintain a secure program that is not as unpredictable as relying on charitable donations (as important and valuable as they are).

Upcoming motion on seclusion rooms:

Over the summer, the board chairs of the four school boards in Edmonton and Calgary drafted a statement asking for the Ministerial Order on seclusion rooms to be rescinded. The Minister of Education has since released Interim Standards on Seclusion, Physical Restraint, and the Practice of Time-Out. As our Board of Trustees is an important stakeholder in this conversation, I believe it is important for us to have a public and transparent discussion about this issue. In addition to a request for a report on the use of seclusion and time-out rooms in our district, I tabled the following motion, which will be discussed at our next meeting, Sept. 24th:

1. That Edmonton Public School Board advocate to the Minister of Education that involuntary confinement (seclusion rooms and time-out rooms) is not used as a punishment or behavior management technique, and is only used as a last resort in emergency situations endangering the physical safety of students or staff. 

2. And, that Edmonton Public School Board advocate to the Minister of Education for the systemic changes needed to work towards a system where these rooms are no longer needed or used, through:

    • Increased cross-ministry collaboration to serve students with disabilities and mental health concerns
    • Increased and adequate funding for students in need of specialized supports
    • Increased funding for staff training in positive behavior supports and increased funding for regulated specialists to work with teachers and educational assistants

Find out more about this board meeting, or view it on-line: