Archive: February, 2012

What happens after the school closure moratorium expires in November 2012?

Trustee Spencer and I moved two motions to be debated at the March 13th board meeting ( that will start the discussion about how we make public education work in established neighborhoods. The school closure moratorium committee has been a very informative process, but looking twenty years down the road we need to figure out how all of the pieces work together, and if options like brand new replacement schools can be part of the mix.

Please read our moratorium committee recommendations to help keep schools open, here. We know we need a new utilization formula that reflects the true use of school space and we know that we need some excess capacity built into the system to incorporate the return of families to established neighborhoods. However, ultimately keeping schools open depends on local kids going to local schools and the demographic changes required to repopulate many of our neighbourhoods (using all statistics available) is going to take much, much, longer than I had anticipated when I was a trustee candidate.

I want to be clear that our board remains committed to the moratorium, which expires in November 2012. Administration continues to review all of our facilities and programs, but as a board we will continue to examine ways to keep schools open and investigate new and collaborative partnerships that might support more of our schools. For instance, I have been pushing for more collaboration with the separate school system (Journal: school boards will consider sharing space.)

What do we do when a school enrollment is dropping to the point where a regular program might have 50 children? What do we do when a choice program is located in a place that isn’t serving the local students or community? What do you do when you have two half-empty schools located in the same neighbourhood? What do you do when your budget is stretched further and further, but your costs are growing faster than your revenues?

These motions are informed based on the feedback I have been receiving from school councils and community consultations throughout my campaign and my term in office (What can we do to attract more families back to established neighbourhoods?) It is also a reflection of my learning as a trustee as I’ve been working with my colleagues to grasp the complexity of our space and infrastructure needs and the changing demographics in our city. While we can (and should) keep the vast majority of our schools open for when our neighbourhoods refill with young families, in the short term there may need to be a few changes in declining areas that have multiple schools– sometimes in the same neighborhood (or under a kilometre away.)

As the moratorium comes to an end, I believe that given our 197 schools in Edmonton, we need to evaluate, if every single one of these schools is best serving their local community and hear from our administration about possible opportunities. As trustees, we need to be willing to hear our options they can bring forward.

Additionally, we need to make sure that the closure cost-savings (estimated at a million per closure by administration) follow the children to the receiving school so instead of them just being inconvenienced by change, they can be offered something better.

Trustee Spencer and I put these motions on the table to start the conversation with our board on March 13th.

What do we do when the moratorium expires?

  • Did we get the suggested numbers right?
  • Are there other criteria we might be overlooking?
  • Are there other short-term opportunities to support schools?
  • “It’s not what you take away, it’s what you leave behind.” What should we focus on leaving behind?

Please review these motions and provide your feedback. Please sign up for my newsletter on the right hand side of this page so I can email you information as it comes forward. You can always email me on this or any issue.

Trustee Spencer: 1. Building on the Elevate Report recommendations, that the District develop a 20-year infrastructure plan, in conjunction with communities, other levels of government and school boards, to enrich life-long learning opportunities and provide supports for children and families, and which may include renewal of existing facilities, modernizations, consolidations, replacement schools, cross-district partnerships, expansions, right-sizing and new school construction. The plan should include some small schools in the spirit of the District’s commitment to offering choice for families. Trustees will contribute to creating effective public engagement around this work, with the Moratorium Committee providing oversight, and its terms of reference shall be considered amended to include this function.

Trustee Janz: 2. Planning in the District shall continue to emphasize the importance of providing excellent educational opportunities experiences for all children and supporting neighbourhood schools to serve children and communities. The Board shall continue to advocate at the municipal level for urban renewal through new family-friendly housing and at the provincial level for adequate maintenance and infrastructure funding.

Leading up to the expiration of the Moratorium in November 2012, the Administration shall work with stakeholders, including students, parents, community members, tenants and other levels of government, to bring forward recommendations in December 2012 to take effect September 2013 for consolidation, expansions, right-sizing schools, space sharing with other districts, or replacement schools, including the possibility of school closure, using the following criteria:

a.       Consider schools that are located in the same city neighbourhood as, or less than 700 meters from another EPSB school and where there is comfortably enough space to bring together students in one facility while continuing to offer the existing range of grades and programming options.

b.      Consider schools which do not offer regular programming and which have an enrolment of less than 100 students.

c.       Consider schools which draw from an attendance area where there are less than 80 EPSB students residing at the elementary or junior high levels.

The Administration shall also conduct programming fit reviews at schools where a regular or alternative programming stream has enrollment of less than 80 students.

This work shall be informed by the District Priorities, with an emphasis on equity and healthy transportation, as well as the work of the Moratorium Committee, previous public consultation processes, and the recommendations included in the Elevate report to support strong schools and strong communities.

To fully examine the work we are doing to try and support schools, and our growing infrastructure pressures,  please take a few minutes and read the research done through our school closure moratorium committee process. To see the information reports on the causes of closures, check out presentations on:

By administration numbers, our infrastructure costs outpace our revenues by $34.4 Million. Those costs are then paid for out of our operational budget (classroom dollars.) In some cases, there are very good reasons to do this (For example, keeping a small school open serving a high-needs population, or maintaining our commitment to choice in an area with limited educational opportunities.)

Can we say this is the case for every single one of our 197 schools? I don’t know the answer, but the motion above means that in certain circumstances, we need to be willing to hear about our options.

Plant Operation and Maintenance

Annual revenue $66.0 million & IMR funding $14.5 = Total $80.5 Million

2010/11 audited costs

Custodial $37.9 + Maintenance $25.2 +Utilities $24.3 + IMR 12.3 + Facilities Admin $9.6 + Amortization $5.0 = Total $114.3 Million

What’s the hardest part about being an elected official?

Hanging out with the Students at Hall School

I’ve recently had the privilege of guest speaking to a couple of Grade 6 classes as part of their civics course. I must say these students are sharp.

From knowing intricate details about our municipal government system to the standards they hold for their elected officials, I’m relieved to know that these children are the guardians of our democratic system. These students have goals and hopes and dreams for their democracy and I was thrilled to have the chance to spar with them.

A curve ball that usually knocks me off balance is some variation of the question “What is the  hardest part about being an elected official?

I’ve been reflecting on how to answer this question and this is what I’ve come up with: Living with the  opportunity costs of your decisions.

What’s hard is knowing that every single decision you make has real opportunity costs affecting real children and real communities. Our decisions are not theoretical exercises.

Did we make the right call? And what are the trade-offs that come with every decision?

  • Should we be using operational dollars to keep smaller schools open?
  • Should we have hired one more teacher or two more special education assistants?
  • Are we okay using pesticides on our school grounds because they are the cheaper option?
  • Do we need full day kindergarten for all children or should we focus on those families with the most socio-economic need?
  • Does every decision we make help more students complete high school?
  • Are there limitations on school choice?
  • Did my decision today reflect the best interests of all students and all communities?

There is no magic bullet and what worked 5 years ago may not work today. That’s why our budget and capital plans are living documents that amend and reallocate funds to meet pressures each year. We evolve as a system, and as a board. We learn from our mistakes and we learn how to do better next time.

Reflecting on your decisions is healthy and should be encouraged for all legislators. We teach our kids to walk a mile in the shoes of others, why shouldn’t we? Good decision making doesn’t end with the final vote. Reflection and learning is key. We can always do better tomorrow than we did today.

One of the best books I use as a guide for my decision making is: Mistakes were made (but not by me.) by Tavris and Aronson.

I told the students that I love getting emails that disagree with my vote or my position. I welcome them.

What hurts is when folks don’t know that you have, and continue to weigh the consequences of every decision very seriously. One of my favorite Christopher Hitchens quotes is “Don’t assume that just because you’ve identified someone’s lowest motive, that it is necessarily the correct one.”

I would endeavor to guess that my thoughts are shared all other elected officials.

Are School Trustees Urban Planners?

Are school trustees urban planners? No.

Do decisions made by school board trustees impact city planning? Absolutely.

Twitter: Nov 7th 2012: “@michaeljanz: For the record- last tue at #epsb I argued to include new schools in our capital plan. There are kids in the SW #yeg who really need them.”

Part of the reason I ran for the school board was that I wanted to see a more integrated approach to how we build our communities– with the provincial, municipal, and school boards working together. Although it doesn’t get the same headlines as school closure related issues, I’m thrilled that our board has been working hard on many initiatives for kids like the anti-bullying work, special needs task force, and district priorities. 90% of my time I’m dealing with Education Policy related matters and hence why I’ve chosen to pursue a Masters in Education Policy Studies and not a Masters in urban planning!

I’m glad our board had the opportunity to participate in the community sustainability task force and I hope it leads to more collaborative planning in the future. I look forward to a more coordination and discussion in the future!

Like city council, we need to understand that a city is a complex organism and decisions made by one level of government have dramatic effects upon other entities. Political decisions made in isolation can trigger trickle-down effects that severely impact the work of other levels of government.

If the School Board decides to open a new school, change a neighbourhood school to a magnet site, move yellow bus service, or close a school, all of these decisions have urban planning applications for the whole neighbourhood. Conversely, if the city is going to make transportation decisions that lead to unsafe streets around schools, even though that decision isn’t the jurisdiction of school trustees, you can bet that they should speak up!

Edmonton’s growth plan (in practice) continues to be sprawl-baby-sprawl and has not made family and seniors-friendly infill densification a priority. There’s some nice language in The Way We Grow but in reality development continues outside rather than inside the Henday. Continuing to green-light more sprawl neighbourhoods creates enormous pressure on school boards to meet the educational needs of families who are living further and further away from existing schools.

In the short term, I do support new schools in areas of need. In the long-term, I hope that we will be able to incentivize more families to return to existing neighbourhoods where we have already paid for services. But this won’t happen overnight, and the buck stops with the city of Edmonton and the capital region board on growth decisions. Until then, wherever the children live in Edmonton, we have an obligation to ensure they receive a top-notch Edmonton Public education.

If the city changed its development priorities we could get more families back into our mature neighbourhoods, keep schools open, and save money. The school board could save on transportation and hire more teachers instead. It’s the fiscally prudent thing to do.

If established communities want to keep their schools open— Separate or Public—then we need to make it easy for the kids to live where the schools already are.

The Mayor is right, we do need a variety of housing choices in the city, but we also need a variety of housing choices in the neighbourhoods we have already built! We’ve already invested billions of dollars in the core of our city in our schools, playgrounds, parks, and pools, let’s not let it waste and crumble!