When it comes to saving tens of thousands on carpet cleaning, VSB trustees can't decide
In Wednesday's Question Period at the BC Legislature, members of the Opposition piled on the Education Minister once again, urging her to get out of a "message box". Not sure why it's okay to use a message box to accuse someone of being in a message box, but I guess that's politics. If there has been one "message" that Minister MacDiarmid has repeated a whole bunch is that it's time to find innovative ways to save costs.
Those ways might be shared services or common payroll systems, says MacDiarmid. When it comes to carpet cleaning, the decision on how to save costs was made years ago. In fact, the NDP were still in government in Victoria when it was decided to outsource carpet cleaning services in Vancouver, rather than have them done by inside workers from the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE), Local No. 963.
It apparently was time for the School Board trustees to renew their commitment to contracting out carpet cleaning, which over the years has saved precious education dollars. "Carpet Cleaning Review 2009" was set out upon by trustees on Committee II. So, you're thinking to yourself just look at the costs, and – boom, done – you stick with contracted out services, right? Well, when it comes to the Vision/COPE trustees, who effectively owe their electoral success to donations from labour, it's not so easy.
What ended up happening were hours upon hours of discussions, several staff reports and months of decision-making. Staff reported that to go back to in-house carpet cleaning would requiring hiring four FTEs with full benefits ($278,000), plus purchasing a vehicle and equipment for $400,000. To continue to contract out keeps the cost down below $220K.
VSB staff laid it all out in a comprehensive report. But that wasn't good enough. Vision/COPE trustees stated they're "ideologically opposed to contracting out" and decided to hire a third party consultant to decide if the staff report was accurate. The amount paid for that consultant's report to prove that the staff report was correct cost you and I an additional $2100.
When it comes to leadership, sometimes you have to disappoint the people that paid for your campaign. Once again, that's politics. But when it comes to Vision/COPE, the "L" word apparently does not apply. Which is exactly why parents who are panicking over the VSB's budget challenges might want to cool their jets.
In one way it's not surprising that it took forever for a committee to decide whether to continue contracting out. Politicians sitting in committees tend to love the sound of their own voices, and don't mind letting things drag on a bit. But what is most egregious about the Vision/COPE trustees' position is that they so openly cast doubts upon the professional public servants giving them advice.
Staff laid out the options clearly:
- Contract out = $190,000 to $220,000 per year
- In-House = $400.000 in one-time capital cost for single purpose trucks used possibly 4 months of the year (carpet-cleaning is scheduled during summer when schools closed and service can completed most effectively and efficiently) as well as on-going cost of between $278,000 to $292,000 per year to IUOE staff.
The staff report to committee was comprehensive, detailed and included all but the $292,000 figure. The difference is in the estimated operating costs per vehicle.
Essentially staff – who were accused of being in a “conflict of interest position” by the trustees – had been generous to IUOE in their estimate of operating costs on vehicles if service was done in-house. What Vision/COPE trustees on Committee II were effectively saying is that staff cannot be trusted. In other words, a total slap in the face to them, and to taxpayers who are wondering why this board cannot make the numbers work.
Guess what the $2100 consultant's report said – staff were correct.
Many parents like myself in the Vancouver school system have heard the loud and repeated calls for more money by Vision/COPE VSB trustees. Some appreciate the tactics of Vision and COPE trustees, which is to blame the Province for Vancouver's budget troubles. Others are more suspect, and wonder if the activist approach is instead resulting in more parents choosing independent schools.
As I've said before, I think that Vision's Patti Bacchus is the spokesmodel for promoting private schooling in Vancouver. While she and her colleagues scream about dollars, none of them are proposing more efficient ways to deliver school services. Vancouver has had enrollment drop by over 3200 kids in the past 10 years, but the School Board's budget has gone up approximately $85 million in that time. And dozens of classrooms across the city lay empty.
In my regular discussions with parents, teachers and administrators, it's clear to me that the actions of the political activists are hurting our school system, breeding a culture of mistrust, and undermining faith in our schools. Our trustees show to our kids that yelling at your boss and calling for their resignation is the way to get what you want in the world.
When you have no leadership in your ranks to make wise decisions, yelling at your boss might be the best you can do. I guess that's politics for you.
- post by Mike