Category: First Term (2010-2013)

Should the Edmonton Public School Board Re-join the Public School Boards Association of Alberta?

Trustee Cheryl Johner put forward the following motion to be debated at our June 6th meeting of the Edmonton Public School Board:

That Edmonton Public School Board become a member of the Public School Boards’ Association of Alberta (PSBAA).

Report: http://www.epsb.ca/media/epsb/ourdistrict/boardoftrustees/boardmeetings/2016-17/june6/07-MotionreJoiningthePSBAA.pdf

EPSB was a founding school board of the PSBAA and were members for over twenty years, with the exception of the last four. The PSBAA was founded at a time when there was no advocate for Public Schools. The Catholic School Board Lobby, the Alberta Catholic School Trustee’s Association or the Francophone School Trustees Association existed, but there was no organization to advocate on issues important to public schools.

Today, the PSBAA offers professional development and consultant support when needed to their member boards. Recently they have made it a priority in their current work plan to advocate for “one publicly funded school system” and you can read President Arlene Hrynyk’s (A Catholic herself) Op-Ed advocating for a single, publicly funded school system in the Medicine Hat News. She asks:

  • How does having multiple publicly funded school systems appropriately manage the dollars from Alberta’s taxpayers?
  • Shouldn’t our tax dollars provide equal opportunity?
  • Don’t we want our children to study together, create together, perform together, debate together and work together?
  • By supporting one faith-based system, what message are we sending to other religions when Canada prides itself on being a cultural mosaic?

If Edmonton Public were to rejoin the PSBAA we would have an opportunity to put forward amendments to their work plan, but more on that later on.

An example of ASBA & ACSTA Collaboration.

But what about that other Provincial School Board association, the ASBA? Aside from “the questionable travel, pricey office space, and perks“, I’ve noticed (publicly and privately during my time as ASBA Vice President) a privileging of the Catholic perspective in their work. It wasn’t about what was good for students, often it was what would placate the Catholic trustees. Because the Alberta School Boards Association has Catholic, Public and Francophone Members (with a double majority voting system) they tend to be mute on many of the important issues related to public education. For example, when EPSB brought forward a motion to have the choice to leave the ASBA, Catholic boards unanimously opposed our local autonomy. I was told by Catholic trustees that there was fear that if we left the ASBA, it would strengthen the voice of public education and raise the profile of the PSBAA (the fact that so many leaders within the ASBA were insecure about the PSBAA is surely a testimony to the effectiveness of the PSBAA). But there are countless other examples such as when school boards tried to advance LGBTQ supportive policies.

Which brings us to the question of provincial advocacy and how as Edmonton Public Trustees we can really achieve measurable gains for public education in Alberta. Joining the PSBAA would mean a modest annual membership fee and a commitment of time from trustees to attend some of their events and meetings. Considering some of our trustees already attend some of their meetings as observers, this wouldn’t be much of a change. Unlike the ASBA, the PSBAA is exclusively focused on Alberta and doesn’t try to advocate in Washington DC, or Montreal or seek out PD opportunities in Hawaii.

Even as I write, I haven’t made up my mind on the PSBAA question.

I see numerous arguments for and against membership. I was one of the trustees who voted 5-4 to leave the PSBAA on the last board. At the time, the hope was that it would allow us to focus our efforts with the Metro School Boards and help reform the ASBA. For comparison, Edmonton and Calgary Catholic belong to the ACSTA, the ASBA, and the Metro School Board group. ACSTA membership fees are dramatically higher than the PSBAA fees.

Some might argue that we don’t need the PSBAA because we can advocate very effectively for Edmonton’s interests on our own. The reality is that a third of the students in Alberta belong to Edmonton and Calgary Public Schools (and it rises to a half of students if you include ECSD and CCSD), so we can easily hold meetings with the Minister(s) when needed access to the current or the previous government on important issues has not been an issue.

Some argue that we are myopic and isolationist for leaving. There are other veteran trustees who remind me that political memories can be short it might be valuable to diversify our advocacy options. As Alberta’s political landscape urbanizes, it is helpful to bridge understanding between rural, remote and urban areas. There are other trustees that remind me that while our board is increasingly more vocal on getting a fair and equitable deal for Public Education, other public school boards have been defending the constitutional rights of public school families, long before I raised the issue about the provincial government preferential treatment of Catholic Boards. Certainly joining with other public school boards in this shared cause would help amplify the fact that these are not merely Edmonton Public concerns but are systemic across public Alberta. Having access to shared guest speakers and professional development in Alberta are helpful too, especially as a new trustees are elected this fall. In addition, there is much we could share or contribute from our experience and operations that other public school trustees might find helpful. I know I regularly talk and “environment scan” with dozens across Alberta, and formalizing those connections might be helpful. As Former Trustee Ripley and Former Trustee Fleming used to remind me, we have much to contribute to “the institution” of public education of which we are trustees. If working together with other trustees at PSBAA could work out a shared purchasing or cost savings agreement, I’m sure our membership fee would pay for itself ten-fold.

But let’s come back to the question of advocacy: does joining the PSBAA mean that we endorse their position of one public system? I don’t think so and I think that is a separate question Edmonton Public haven’t had a chance to discuss it. After all, strategic plans are creatures of the membership, and there might be other advocacy ideas put forward by members towards the ideal future for education. I regularly hear from constituents and individual trustees all sorts of ideas for education systems and models:

There are so many different futures for what public education could look like– but this is an entirely separate question that the Edmonton Public Schools as a board does not have a position. The question on the agenda Tuesday is: whether or not we should join the PSBAA. Future establishment of priorities for the association, if we join, would occur at a later time.

In terms of working with regional Catholic boards if we were to rejoin PSBAA, we used to be members for over two decades and it wasn’t an issue. Across Alberta, many PSBAA public trustees work very effectively with their local Catholic school board counterparts. Working together in the status quo as Catholic (so long as there are Catholic school boards) or Public (so long as there are Public school boards) does not preclude trustees from advocating for different visions of what their preferred future should be.
Catholic Boards have certain priorities such as evangelization and the expansion of Catholic schools to spread the catholic faith and they advocate for those ends through the Alberta Catholic School Trustees Association (some certainly more sensational, controversial, heavy handed or litigious than others). Agree or disagree, I argue that no public board has a right to oppose the participation of Catholic Trustees in the ACSTA, no more than Catholic Trustees have a right to oppose public trustees forming their own association. In every situation we will act with integrity in good faith based on current circumstances. Our integrity demands that we can speak to the best future for education. We cannot shut down nor should we shy away from any discussion about the future of education in this province.. I can think of numerous areas where Catholic and Public boards disagree (such as our unanimous motion to abolish the redundant, misleading, useless property tax cheque box), but their position does not preclude us from working to find efficiencies and improve our education system. All trustees understand that they must conform to the school act, but are free to advocate for whatever their preferred future might be.
At the end of the day, we are all Albertans and we want our public education system to be the best. The question is: to solo or to chorus?
So my mind remains open. Do you think there is value in EPSB re-joining the Public School Boards’ Association of Alberta? Or should we pursue a different course? michael@michaeljanz.ca
 

Education is the 2nd Largest Provincial Expenditure- can we operate more efficiently?

Like many education and early learning advocates, I was saddened this week to hear Minister Eggen say that the province was backing away from their commitment for Full Day Kindergarten.

I understand the fiscal pressures of the province and the fact that there is no NEW money — but what if there were millions of dollars in cost savings and efficiencies within the Education system that could be spend more collaboratively?

On Tuesday, June 6th, 2017, the Edmonton Public School Board will be debating the following motion I put forward:

RECOMMENDATION

  1. That the Edmonton Public School Board initiate a “blue ribbon”, third party panel to study efficiencies in operational services of school jurisdictions across the province in all education spending to ensure that resources provided to the classroom are maximized and front line staff are protected.
  2. The Edmonton Public School Board allocates $10,000 from the board initiative fund to cover meeting expenses and incidentals of the panel.

BACKGROUND

  1. The recommendation would contemplate convening a blue ribbon panel with third party input of education and business experts to study efficiencies in operational services of school jurisdictions across the province in all educational spending to ensure that resources provided to the classroom are maximized and front line staff are protected.
  2. If approved, this initiative would be delegated to the Board Audit Committee to determine logistics. The timeline could focus on specific areas and would be coordinated with input by our administration.
  3. The outcomes identified would be brought forward to a future public board meeting and shared with the provincial government.
  4. The costs identified with this initiative would be covered by the board initiative fund and an initial estimate is $10,000.

Rationale:

Education is the 2nd largest provincial expenditure next to health care. The majority of that funding is allocated to 61 different school boards overlapping across Alberta. This motion provides an opportunity for our board to reaffirm the message to the provincial government and all other school jurisdictions that we are open for business and we are looking to collaborate.

The first step would be studying the issue — let’s find ways to save money and bring experts together to shake the collective school piggy bank. If we can pool resources together to increase our purchasing power and find efficiencies in operational services, we could not only save money but improve the educational experience for our students.

The second step would depend on the outcomes highlighted in the report, but it could involve greater partnerships between school districts, one-off initiatives, or outcomes yet to be contemplated.

Minister Eggen recently said:

“I’ve been pushing hard for school boards to co-operate in regards to transportation and procurement, even physical buildings,” Eggen said Friday. 

At the Edmonton Public Audit Committee, we voted to add two external auditors and they have added great value as an additional set of eyes to our board internal processes. It is helpful to have an external set of eyes ask questions and share ideas.

In our own district, one area I’ve been impressed with is the economies of scale that we apply to 205 schools. Our Finance and Central staff team are phenomenal and have been looking at various processes to make sure that we are always putting our core mandate first: Education. For example, at EPSB shared purchasing of Chrome Books saved 25%. Shared waste management collection between schools saved considerable resources as well. A pet peeve of mine, graphing calculators for high school, could be another area where we could take advantage of bulk purchasing. These are just a few of the additional ideas that we could showcase. As a large district, we can take advantage of economies of scale and save dollars for all students.

Findings from our Blue Ribbon Panel would be shared with other school districts and government funders. Millions could be redirected every single year back to the classroom across Alberta, school fees eliminated, and much more.

Here are just a few Ideas that could be explored: 

  • Centralized payroll systems
  • Technology purchasing
  • Software licensing
  • Regional Student transportation departments
  • Purchasing power – Economies of scale across regions Infrastructure
  • Investigate provincial or geographic software licenses and shared hardware for enterprise systems that can be used by a number of jurisdictions.
  • Investigate the sharing of business services (i.e. payroll, infrastructure project management, transportation, etc.)
  • Investigate common purchasing arrangements for resources and materials, including computer hardware, furniture and equipment, etc.
  • and many more…
Cross-district collaboration isn’t an entirely brand new idea, but I would like to see it scaled out considerably. Another example of collaboration that comes to mind is the shared transportation initiative with Edmonton Catholic Schools: The Edmonton Student Transportation Authority (ESTA) could save $2.5 Million and result in efficiencies annually.

The ESTA Pilot in Edmonton was supposed to provide administrative cost savings, efficiencies, higher levels of service, and a better product that would benefit both the Catholic and the Public school board.  Edmonton Catholic Trustee Patricia Grell wrote on her blog (https://grellblog.wordpress.com/2017/02/27/cooperation-is-the-foundation-of-the-future-of-catholic-education-in-alberta/):

Currently, ECSD is working on a partnership with EPSB to share the operation and costs associated with busing.  EPSB and ECSD have established a joint Edmonton Student Transportation Authority or ESTA which will significantly reduce the costs of busing and lower ride times. EPSB and ECSD have agreed to establish ESTA because a preliminary study in 2014 revealed that more than a $2.5 million/year would be saved with this collaborative effort and ride times would be reduced significantly.  I commend our administration for continuing to work on this partnership with EPSB so that our students get the best possible transportation service we can offer.  We are following the example of Parkland Public and Evergreen Catholic school boards which already share busing.”
That is just one example of one collaboration between two school districts. Imagine the possibility for other collaborations to be scaled across Alberta.
Hundreds of millions could be redirected every single year back to the classrooms, and maybe we just might be able to find the money for other crucial investments such as Full Day Kindergarten for the Children who need it the most.

Southwest Edmonton Needs New Public Elementary, Junior and High Schools

Southwest Edmonton Needs New Public Elementary, Junior and High Schools

Since I was first elected school trustee in 2010, advocating for the construction of new K-9 and High Schools— especially for the Southwest— has been a top priority.  However, the responsibility for allocating new schools falls solely in the hands of the Provincial Government — not the school board or the city council. This has been the case since 1994, and it is important for you to know the board of trustees are exhausting every single opportunity advocate for new schools, and to make sure public school families get their fair share. Edmonton Public school families are competing for their fair share of school construction money against not only against Calgary and other rural Alberta communities but publicly-funded Catholic and Francophone schools as well. Your voice can help.

We need your help:

First: Write to your school trustee. Your stories and letters put arrows in our quiver. Our Facts tell, but your stories sell our case for new schools. Second: Write to your MLA. Emails and written letters help amplify our presentations. They need to hear that Albertans believe new schools are a sensible investment in community and are a timely economic stimulus.

No new schools were built between 2002 and 2010

The opening of three new schools (two K–9s and one K–6) in the 2016–2017 school year and the scheduled opening of 11 new schools (seven K–9s, two K–7s, one K–6 and one 7–9) in the 2017–2018 school year have relieved some of the immediate enrolment pressures that resulted from no new school construction from 2002 to 2010, despite the rapid student population growth in new suburban areas that occurred during the same time.

We gladly share our data:

Our metrics are comprehensive. We prioritize our school requests for new construction and major additions based on a review of all land development plans, policies and data for the City of Edmonton, and analysis of pre-school and student residency data in suburban areas, including but not limited to: number of current students residing in an area and projected students, the historical pace of development and the amount of development remaining in an area, utilization of the schools that the majority of students residing in the area attend, average distance travelled by the students to their designated school, accommodation of alternative and special education programs, and partnerships, current state of development of the proposed site, new capacity represented by recently funded capital projects, and much more. You can read all about this by searching “Three Year Capital Plan” on epsb.ca

We’ve been asking for high schools for the last 5 years

A request for additional high school space has been made by the board in the previous last five capital plan submissions, not including this years’ draft submission. Focusing on attendance area high school enrolment and space, the High School Accommodation Framework 2016–2019 has concluded that additional capacity is needed now and in the near future to accommodate increasing high school student enrolment in the District. The District will need at least 8,000 additional spaces to accommodate these students, thus new high school requests require increased prioritization.

More spaces means more program choices

School space and program placement (especially high-demand programs such as French immersion or Mandarin Bilingual), School community renewal projects, new construction opportunities in developing areas, growth of alternative and special education programs, and efficient management of our existing resources is extremely complex. To continue to provide high quality learning environments and supports for students and community members, the District works closely with our partner organizations, where possible. A strong working relationship with our partners at the City of Edmonton has contributed to the initiatives in mature and developing communities. EPSB continues to look for additional opportunities to work with agencies and organizations that support students, their families and the broader community.

Want to learn more? Send me an email and I’ll buy you a coffee: michael@michaeljanz.ca

Michael Janz is Past EPSB Chair and the Trustee for Ward F. Visit his website at www.michaeljanz.ca

2017 Re-election Campaign Volunteer Opportunities:

I need your help. We are building a “Campaign Cabinet” and I want you to be a part of it. In February 2017, after two years I stepped aside as Board Chair. I remain a Trustee, and if the voters will have me, I offer to serve for the 2017-2021 term.
While the election isn’t until October 16th, 2017, there are many opportunities to get involved in helping out with my re-election campaign. We will be planning a campaign launch this spring, starting our door knocking, re-launching our digital campaign, and preparing for the fall election.
Campaigns are incredible learning opportunities, a chance to make new friends and learn tangible skills easily transferred to your career, your work, or (hopefully) future election campaigns. The campaign skills and friendships I made volunteering on Don Iveson’s 2007 City Council campaign still benefit my life to this day.
While “twice-incumbent advantage” is an undeniable asset, we must always campaign like we are 100 votes behind. But our campaign can serve another higher purpose: the chance to engage hundreds of our neighbours in a conversation about improving our school board, our city, and our society.
Join the team by sending me an email michael@michaeljanz.ca with your contact information, a bit about yourself, and how you would like to get involved. Please “like” my page on Facebook, follow me on twitter, and sign up for my newsletter on www.michaeljanz.ca.
With gratitude,
Michael Janz
Trustee Ward F, 2010-2017
Biography, blog, and more inforation: www.michaeljanz.ca

(Video) Understanding Alberta’s Education System: Public education: What should it be, and how do we achieve it?

Former Education Minister David King made waves today when he announced he was mobilizing a campaign (IDEA: Inclusive Diverse Education for All) to unify the Public and Catholic school boards In Alberta (and wrestle with other education issues such as assessment and citizenship). David is still very engaged in the education community and I had the pleasure of hearing him give the keynote at the Education Society of Edmonton earlier this month. You can read more about his campaign and writings here.

Beyond the question of unifying Catholic or Public school districts, if you are interested in learning about our Public education system, why we have Catholic schools, why we don’t have protestant schools, and what the role of community is, I encourage you to check out this series of videos called: Public Education: What it should be, and how do we achieve it?

The video is below broken into 7 parts:

Janet Keeping, President of the Sheldon Chumir Foundation for Ethics in Leadership, discusses the situation in Morinville, Alberta, which lacks public secular education.

David King, former Alberta Minister of Education, addresses the question “What is public education for?”

Frank Peters, Professor of Education, University of Alberta, discusses the historical evolution of public education in Alberta.

Linda McKay-Panos, Executive Director, Alberta Civil Liberties Research Centre, describes the legal framework within which Morinville could be provided with secular public education.

Dan Shapiro, Research Associate, Sheldon Chumir Foundation for Ethics in Leadership, discusses freedom of religion and the lack of a secular public education in Morinville, Alberta.

David King, former Alberta Minister of Education, and Frank Peters, University of Alberta Professor of Education, discuss separate school education in Alberta and the anomalous situation in Morinville, which lacks secular public education.

Patty Dittrick, President, PSBAA, discusses the lack of public secular schooling in Morinville, Alberta.

Jennifer Love speaks on behalf of the Morinville Parent Delegation on the need for secular public education in their Alberta town.

Sheldon Chumir was a lawyer, businessman, civil libertarian and Alberta MLA. Sheldon observed that “leadership exercised by individuals motivated by high ethical purpose can bring about significant change for the betterment of our society.” The Sheldon Chumir Foundation for Ethics in Leadership is supported by a bequest by Mr. Chumir and carries on his legacy by engaging the public on questions of ethical leadership, especially concerning human rights and civil liberties.

 

 

Fairness and equity for Alberta Public Schools

UPDATE MARCH 21st: The EPSB Approved my motion below unanimously and we sent a letter to the minister of education.

On Tuesday March 6th I moved the following notice of motion to be debated at our March 21st meeting.

Be it resolved that the Edmonton Public School Board advocate to the Government of Alberta to develop a framework to ensure Public schools get a fair and equitable share of schools, modernizations, portables, and capital project spending. 

  1. All schools, portables modernizations, and capital funding to Public and Catholic schools are  awarded by the provincial government.
  2. We lack transparent policy from the provincial government how schools are prioritized and awarded between different school districts.
  3. Public students and families across Alberta– especially in Edmonton– need their fair and equitable share of capital funding– especially for new schools
  4. Despite only 25% of Albertans being Catholic, the government appears to provide them an unfair and inequitable amount of school dollars, sometimes between 30-50%.
  5. Fairness and equity in transparent, defensible provincial decision-making would prevent unreasonably advantaging one group over another.

Rationale:

As Alberta spends $3.5Billion over the next five yearsfair and equitable process  is essential. Education’s needs are looked at in the context of the infrastructure needs of other government ministries, so naturally we need to make sure schools are rationed in a fair and equitable way.

No school district is having their needs fully-met, but some districts appear to be seeing their needs met slightly more. Edmonton public parents and community members need to know that our board and fulfill our fiduciary and moral duty to public education.

Does this seem fair?

Depending on the years, the inequity might be worse. For example, looking at modernizations in 2006: 36% of the funding went to the Catholic District while 64% went to the Public District. There were years when no schools were awarded so new schools should not be the only metric considered, It appears previous governments have let down public education families and the current government needs to rapidly course-correct. In September 2016: three public and two Catholic schools opened. 40% went to the Catholic district. In September 2017:  11 new public schools are under construction and Five new Edmonton Catholic schools. 32% of funding went to the Catholic district.

According to the province’s own 2016 Unfunded Capital Projects list despite only 25% of Edmontonians being Catholic, the Catholic district are getting 50% of the new schools in Edmonton! (I would think that six Public schools for two Catholic schools would be more fair and equitable.)

It appears the Government of Alberta has been unfairly and inequitably handing out money to school districts (New Schools, Modernizations, Modulars, Portables), denying public school students their fair share of the funding. As a result, the government has been artificially inflating Catholic enrollment (more space means more enrolment, means more justification for more space). I hear regularly from parents who would have chosen a public school if it were available and closer to their home, but instead opted for the Catholic district instead of a longer bus ride. This is an unfair penalty against non-catholic students and families in our city who are waiting for a new school, taking a longer bus ride, shuttled out of their current school, or is sitting in a crumbling building awaiting a modernization. Non-catholic families should not be penalized by government bias towards the Catholic school system.

How should funding be provided to Public or Catholic schools?

Here are a few ideas:

Enrolment: In 2016 Catholic School Boards (separate) made up about 23% of total enrolment in Alberta Schools. Public Schools 67%. In 2016 Edmonton (133,167 combined EPSB&ECSD students), Roughly 25-30% (40,216) go to the Catholic District and ~70% (92,951) go to the public board. (I don’t have the total student numbers for Charters/Francophone for Edmonton.)

Declared Catholics: The most recent numbers I can find from declarations on census indicate that in 2011: 24.3% Catholic in Alberta and 25.9% are Catholic in Edmonton.

Property taxOnly 17% sent their property taxes to Catholic Schools in Edmonton. Alberta-wide the number is closer to 11%.

Clear and transparent policy as to the appropriate ratio of funding that should be going to Catholic or Public boards would be a step in this direction. As a future step, I would also make the case that inequity merits greater investment on a go-forward basis to restore fairness to public students and families.

This has been a bone of contention that I’ve heard from many other school trustees across Alberta and I certainly hear from parents in new and mature areas in Edmonton. Fairness and equity in transparent, defensible policy would prevent one group from unreasonably advantaging one group over another.

It is wrong to expect non-Catholic families to send their children to Catholic schools or face ride times to public schools further away.

Although Catholic schools are fully-funded by the provincial government, It is important to correct the common myth that the Catholic School Districts are the same as a public school district with the same purpose and obligations to the community. Public school districts have a legal obligation and requirement to take all students at a designated school Catholic districts are only legally obliged to accept the Catholic.

According to the lobby group for Catholic Schools, the ACSTA:

Catholicism and Catholic education is not an alternative program offered in a secular school but a worldview, encompassing a Christian perspective, imbued with the Spirit, taught by faith witnesses who are more than teachers but sacraments to God’s grace, and Catholicism is permeated throughout the curriculum, as well as school life in general, be it through sports or extracurricular activities. (Full statement)

I appreciate and respect their evangelization mission, however it is their mission and catholic evangelization should not be the mission of Education Minister David Eggen in distributing operational funding or Infrastructure Minister Brian Mason in awarding new schools. Supporting my motion would renew the call for “public oversight and full transparency” that Premier Notley campaigned on:

“Albertans depend on our schools and hospitals for the high-quality education and health care that matters most to families,” said Notley. “But for years, the PCs put their own political interests at the top of the infrastructure list. It’s time to end the political games that too often decide when and where shovels hit the ground.”

There is no other issue more critical to the future of public education than being able to provide the right schools in the right places– right now.

I’m not advocating that the provincial government stop supporting Catholic schools, I just want to make sure Billion-dollar decisions are done in a fair, transparent, and equitable deal for public education.

I’m asking my colleagues to join public families in asking for our fair share.

(Updated) It’s Time to End the Education Property Tax Designation illusion

Updated Feb 28th: Motion passed by the Board of trustees and letter is being drafted.

Updated Feb 23rd 2017: Updated remarks posted at the bottom of this post:

Feb 21st, 2017: Many Albertans are still under the illusion that where they designate their Education Property taxes (public, separate, undeclared) makes a financial impact on the money to hire teachers, buy computers or build new schools. It does not, and this deception is problematic for many reasons. As such I have asked that the following motion be debated at the February 28th Edmonton Public School Board Meeting:

MOTION: The Edmonton Public School Board should advocate to the provincial government to eliminate the designation of Education property taxes and continue to advocate to our sole funder for predictable sustainable funding and new schools in alignment with our capital plan.

Whether you dedicate your education property taxes to the Public, Catholic/Separate school board, it does not actually make a pennies difference to education funding. This misleading box is an anachronism that should have been deleted when the taxation powers of school boards were removed in 1994. Education Property taxes from across Alberta are collected by municipalities and then pooled into the general revenue of the provincial government. They are then allocated via per student funding to each individual school board. More students? Funding goes up. More people designate their funding to your school board but your enrollment stays the same? No new money.

So the next time you here someone say “But I send my taxes to the X system!”, you can clarify that it only matters where they send their children, not their tax dollars. And the next you hear someone not understanding how we need more money for new school construction or to hire more teachers even though your property tax went up, make sure to clarify that these are unrelated issues.

As a thought experiment, the provincial government could cut the education property tax amount to zero, and while that would reduce the revenue the provincial government took in, assuming constant enrolment, the funding that flows to any school board would remain the same because of the per pupil funding formula.

And just as a disclaimer, I’m not advocating at this time to get rid of Education Property Tax (although I agree with Mayor Don Iveson that Property Taxes are regressive) and just incase any readers view this as a backdoor attempt to defund the Catholic or Francophone School System: it absolutely is not and I argue no school trustee or board is well-served by this illusion.

Here are a few other reasons to get rid of the fictional check box:

Does the designation matter?

It’s creating unnecessary paperwork: I believe it was an oversight that was missed in this process. As the province is reviewing amendments to the Modernized Municipal Government Act, it is time that we made education property tax transparent and more efficient– this is unnecessary paperwork. This would be a very simple and straightforward amendment that would reduce paperwork for municipalities and Alberta Education.

It confuses the public as to why their badly-needed school isn’t built yet: I’ve often heard expressions of frustration that given the fact hundreds of new residents indicated that they wanted to send their taxes to the public school system, so why didn’t we take that money and build a new school? Can’t we count the houses that mark an X? Because the Education Property tax does not impact school funding and new schools are awarded by the Government of Alberta (more on this later) it puts school boards — both Public and Catholic — under scrutiny and deflects blame from previous governments that took away our ability to generate our own revenue for operations or capital projects and have not fulfilled our evidence-based school needs list that is our capital plan!

It gives the provincial funder a political shield against adequately funding Education: Since 1994 when the provincial government removed the taxation powers of school boards, the provincial government is our sole funder. We are funded on a per-pupil enrolment basis and the responsibility for resourcing our schools falls solely to the provincial government. They even set the education property tax amount that is requisitioned from municipalites. We must hold them accountable and it could be argued that the existence of the “designation” allows, intentionally or not, a hanging question of “Well maybe funding to a board decreased because ratepayers dedicated their funding elsewhere.”

It does not assist student enrolment planning: As I mentioned in a previous post students move freely between Catholic and Public systems as well as within schools. You do not need to show your property tax forms as a parent at pre-enrolment and it will not guarantee you a space in the line for a crowded school or a lottery. Remember, thousands of renters do not assign their taxes so we don’t know their intention either. Capital plans are not based upon the number of people who check the box one way or another and remember renters don’t check the box at all! This further confuses our capital planning process on where Catholic or Public school boards need new schools and misleads the public.

It confuses school trustee eligibility for those seeking office and voting: This box further contributes to the confusion as it has no bearing on your eligibility. When you turn in your nomination package as a candidate you do not have to show how you designate your property tax nor when you pick up a ballot to vote for school trustee, there is no tax confirmation required to vote for either board (how else would renters run or vote?). I was just reading about a fascinating case next door in Wetaskiwin where a former Catholic trustee ran and was elected to the Public School board:

“He thought directing his taxes to the public school division made him eligible to run, she said. Although she said the law is outdated and should be changed, the board is still bound by the School Act and should comply.

There is a sense of urgency to supporting my motion and the Minister making an amendment:

First, because amendments are underway to the Modernized Municipal Government Act: It would be a very convenient time to correct this error and be transparent in our taxation. In the past Public and Catholic have held onto this checkbox in a wish that somehow taxation powers will be restored. I don’t know that this is still a top advocacy priority for school boards. The bigger issue at hand for me is transparent communication of funding needs with the taxpayers and our parents.

Secondly, it is a municipal election year and already questions of eligibility are starting to arise. Recently, I was contacted by a hopeful public school trustee candidate whose children are enrolled in Catholic school but she wanted to run for the public board but didn’t know if she was eligible. This box contributes to the erroneous belief around candidate eligibility. As a voter you don’t have to bring your property check box to the ballot station in order to cast your ballot for school trustee.

Thirdly, by all accounts and signals by the provincial government, this is going to be a very difficult budget year. As a growing school board we depend on the provincial government to fund enrollment growth for school boards. Our school board has already grown 6000 students in the last two years. We need to do what we can to speak truth to our parents about how their schools are funded, how their schools are built, and the power that they have to activate their MLAs to make the right decisions at the budget table.

I realize that tax policy may be dry or not as interesting as other education issues, but this issue is critical to the sustainability and stability of our schools.

Background:

Here is the AUMA:

Municipalities are the authorities responsible to collect property taxes. The municipal tax portion is managed by the municipality to fund local operations and the education tax portion is transferred to the province to fund the Alberta School Foundation Fund.

and:

“Since all school boards across the province are funded on an equitable per-student funding formula, the declaration does not actually affect the level of funding of any public or separate school board.”

(https://auma.ca/advocacy-services/programs-initiatives/property-assessment-and-taxation-hub/fundamentals-alberta’s-property-assessment-and-taxation-system/fundamentals-property-taxation-system)

City of Edmonton:

Use of the Education Tax:

The Government of Alberta states that education property taxes support public and separate school students in kindergarten to grade 12. Education property taxes are pooled and then distributed to all Alberta school boards on an equal per-student basis. The majority of these funds are for instruction, including teacher salaries, textbooks, and other classroom resources.

https://www.edmonton.ca/residential_neighbourhoods/property_tax_assessment/education-tax.aspx

UPDATED COMMENTS:

While the school board will have a chance to debate the motion on Tuesday, February 28th, I thought I would post a few updates:

But while many are under the impression their dollars go directly to the school district they check off, the funds are actually pooled provincially and distributed to schools based on enrollment.

“We were constantly told that Catholics paid for Catholic education. And that didn’t seem to add up,” said APUPIL spokesperson Luke Fevin.

The numbers show roughly $1.9 billion of property taxes collected in 2014-15 were from taxpayers who chose to support public, versus $214 million from those supporting Catholic.

  • The Minister of Education responded to questions on the subject:

Education Minister David Eggen said the Constitution and Alberta Act compel the government to ask about the religion of property owners where a separate school board exists. (http://edmontonjournal.com/news/local-news/school-board-funding-choice-box-should-be-dropped-from-property-tax-forms-says-edmonton-public-board-chairman)

  • While currently required, the constitutional and Alberta Act changes could be easily made in the next sitting of the legislature and then would be ratified by the House of Commons/Senate. The amending formula for the constitution could be as easy as changing Daylight Savings Time:

    The Constitution’s central document — more specifically section 93 the Constitution Act of 1867, also called the British North America Act — gives provinces the right to make laws governing education. Such documents, including the Alberta Act and the Saskatchewan Act, can be changed. The procedure for this type of amendment is laid out in section 43 of the 1982 Constitution Act. It requires the approval of the House of Commons, the Senate, and, crucially, only the province or provinces that the change affects.

    In Ontario the procedure would be basically the same. The provincial and federal legislatures would have to agree to the change, and a line would be added to section 93 stating that the separate-school rules don’t apply to Ontario. There’s no reason to think the feds wouldn’t go along with this. They green-lit Quebec’s move to do the exact same thing in 1999.  

    http://www.metronews.ca/views/opinion/2016/03/14/canadas-publicly-funded-religious-schools-have-to-go.html

 

 

Partnership in Action: EPSB Kindergarten students to receive free EPL cards!

As many readers know I’m a passionate supporter of EPL and a former 6 year Edmonton Public Library Trustee. So you can likely imagine my reaction to this exciting collaboration between EPL and EPSB!

I’m overjoyed by the fact that we are working together to improve early literacy and help even more kindergarten kids get free library cards!

Here is the full text of the joint release put out Friday by EPL and EPSB:

Edmonton Kindergarten students to receive free library cards

Edmonton Public Library, Edmonton Public Schools sign new Memorandum of Understanding and commit to the importance of early literacy

For immediate release:

EDMONTON, AB,  February 17, 2017 – Free library cards will make their way into the hands of more Kindergarten students, thanks to a partnership between the Edmonton Public Library (EPL) and Edmonton Public Schools (EPSB).

According to Early Child Development Mapping Project (ECMap), less than 50% of children entering Kindergarten in Edmonton start school ready to learn. With a common objective to support students in their journey from early learning through high school and beyond, EPL and EPSB are collaborating to ensure children are provided with the tools and resources needed for an excellent start to school. Class visits and field trips to the library will be a focus for EPL, with staff from neighbourhood branches working with schools, teachers and students in their community. Every child in Kindergarten, along with their families, will also be provided with an opportunity to get a library card through their classroom.

“We know the early years of a child’s life set the tone for their learning,” said Pilar Martinez, Chief Executive Officer for the Edmonton Public Library. “Kindergarten is a critical age – it is a time when children make significant progress in developing the building blocks of reading and literacy.

“Edmonton Public Schools wants to give children an excellent start to learning – and the library can help.”

EPL has provided over 13,000 EPSB students with free library cards through the School Library Card program. Since this initiative began at the start of the 2016/2017 school year, 1,065 Kindergartners have signed up for their very own library card – a total of 59% of EPSB Kindergarten students. The goal is to reach 70% by the end of summer 2017.

“Libraries are an integral support for literacy and developing young learners into lifelong readers, and the earlier we can make that connection, the better,” said Michael Janz, Edmonton Public School Board Chair. “It’s easy to fall in love with libraries when you’re Kindergarten age – especially the modern, creative, diverse and exciting libraries of EPL.”

The two organizations, who have been working together formally since 2006, signed a new Memorandum of Understanding on Friday, taking their partnership to the next level.

For more information on early literacy for Kindergarten children, visit epl.ca/readysetgo.

 

– 30 –

 

About the Edmonton Public Library
The Edmonton Public Library (EPL) is proud to be 2014 Library of the Year! We’ve come a long way since 1913 when books were all you could find on our shelves… and we’re just getting started! Today, EPL carries everything you care about. We are Edmonton’s largest lender of all manner of information and entertainment. Our professionally trained staff take you beyond Google with the knowledge, discernment and desire to help you navigate a universe of information. The second most visited place in Edmonton, every year EPL hosts over 14 million in-branch and online visits across our 20 branches and website. We deliver our incredible content to you everywhere – in the library, at home or on your handheld device. Unmatched access and unrivalled value – that is today’s EPL. EPL is a registered charity and relies on donations to enhance services. Spread the words. www.epl.ca/give

About the Edmonton Public School Board
With more than 200 schools and nearly 100,000 students, Edmonton Public Schools is the second largest school district in Alberta and the sixth largest in Canada. Edmonton Public Schools is helping to shape the future in every one of our classrooms. We’re focused on ensuring each student learns to their full potential and develops the ability, passion and imagination to pursue their dreams and contribute to their community.


For more information, contact

Heather McIntyre
Communications Specialist
Edmonton Public Library
780-496-7055
hmcintyre@epl.ca

Brad Stromberg
Supervisor, Media Relations
Edmonton Public School Board
780-429-8464
brad.stromberg@epsb.ca

Electing a new Board Chair…

At the January 17th, 2017 Caucus meeting, I provided notice to my Trustee colleagues that after two years at the helm, I would be stepping aside as Board Chair, allowing for the election of a new Board Chair, and continuing to serve the board as Trustee for Ward F.

Given the fact that my youngster arrived three weeks early, I’ve asked Michelle to prepare for an organizational board meeting to be held February 28th, 2017.

It has been an incredible honor and I look forward to continuing to support the district in our very important work.

Here is a copy of my letter I gave the board: (PDF: 17JAN2017~Board Chair)

 

Sharpen the Saw: Professional Development Opportunities in Alberta

How many of you have seen the #7 habits programs around your schools?

Habit #7: Sharpen The Saw…

I’m a big supporter of effective professional development opportunities that help connect us to the important issues in the community. I’ve found many incredible opportunities are available right here in Edmonton… not to mention you get to develop local relationships and connections with local agencies, leaders, volunteers etc. etc. Many of these opportunities would not just be valuable to school trustees, but other elected officials, volunteers, political organizers, and many other active citizens!
I thought it might be helpful to start building a list of outstanding professional development opportunities in the capital region. If you are aware of others, shoot me an email (michael@michaeljanz.ca), and I’ll add them to the list!
#1: ELECTED OFFICIALS EDUCATION PROGRAM (AUMA)
 I’m not sure if you have looked into the Elected Officials Education Program but I think you might be interested in this. While it is not tailored to school boards directly, the overall themes and focus on good governance are significant and I think they would be very targeted and provocative Professional Development for our work.
#3 EVERACTIVE SCHOOLS summer workshop and meetings
#4 Aboriginal Community Relations:
(Or any of the Faculty of Extension courses related to finance/business/governance/municipal politics/ etc for that matter)

#6: Planning Academy
:
(These should be mandatory for all elected officials. $40 for 8hrs of solid knowledge plus a binder!)
 #7 Online Resources:
EPL: There are lots of awesome online learning opportunities through EPL available — Lynda.com and many more– for free! http://www.epl.ca/teen-subject/learn/

#8: John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights
:
Registration is open for the Human Rights Facilitator Training Program:
http://www.jhcentre.org/news-blog/human-rights-facilitator-training-program?platform=hootsuite