Vancouver school trustees blasted in special adviser's report

Post by Mike Klassen in ,

31 comments

vision-trustees
Vision Trustees Lombardi, Bacchus with NDP MLA Simpson (l) at yet another anti-government rally

A non-partisan special adviser appointed by the BC government has released her report, and it is a scathing indictment of the Vision/COPE Vancouver school board. It cites lack of management experience, a "reactive" political strategy, lack of any longterm vision, and even identifies a conflict of interest from a Vision Vancouver trustee.

Here are a few quotes from the report produced by Cheryl Wenezenki-Yolland, Comptroller-General.

The current Board of Trustees has not demonstrated they have the management capacity to effectively govern the Vancouver School Board or fulfill all of their accountabilities and duties of the Act. This is evidenced by the quality of board discussions, their focus on short term decisions at the expense of long term sustainability, the lack of strategic and long term plans, and an unbalanced focus on advocacy versus financial stewardship, delaying decisions that would see the effective use of existing or available resources.

We also identified a potential conflict of interest on the part of a trustee between their business interests and their obligations as a board member, in contravention of the School Act.

We were surprised to find that some trustees choose not to avail themselves of training opportunities. The Board of Trustees working with the District Management Team could improve its knowledge and capacity.

The Vancouver School Board does not have a long term strategic plan which would link Vancouver School Board‟s educational and business priorities and align its actions and allocation of funding with those priorities.

On the Board's financial position, the Comptroller-General comments:

The Vancouver School Board‟s balance sheet is healthy, it is in a strong cash position, and its current accumulated surplus is substantial; in fact it is the largest of all the Metro Vancouver school districts. It does not have significant debt and has no tangible long term liabilities.

On budget-making, she adds:

Despite management advice to support longer term decision making, some of the Board of Trustees‟ choices have created significant budget pressures. Collectively, these choices have created a structural deficit, which added about $8 million in annual budget pressures in 2009/10.

Wenezenki-Holland also suggests (quelle surprise!) that there were some political shenanigans using the VSB website:

The Vancouver School Board‟s posting of its budget information and financial performance is not transparent. The pessimistic preliminary budget is posted prominently on the website, but the amended budget and the year-end financial statements are more difficult to locate.

The conflict of interest the Comptroller-General cited concerns Trustree Sharon Gregson, who also works for a daycare affected by board decisions.

In an interview with the Vancouver Sun, Education Minister Margaret MacDiarmid stated, "I am troubled that the board's governance practices have led to poor choices that have diverted millions of dollars from the classroom."

For Vision Vancouver, this report is a huge embarrassment. It cuts across the party's decision to cooperate with COPE, to embrace a controversial former COPE Trustee in their caucus, and points out the lack of good judgment in their ranks.

The Vision-COPE allied school board was set up for the sole purpose of acting on the wishes of radicals in the BC Teachers Federation and their subsidiary organizations like VESTA, and not for advocating for children and parents. By allowing former BCTF President David Chudnovsky as their chief power broker, COPE have become essentially the elected arm of the Teachers' union.

By masking themselves as a party of the centre Vision Vancouver ably achieved majorities in City Hall, the Park Board and on School Board. As governers of the School Board they've focused solely on using the tools of political agitation, rather than developing an appropriate direction for our schools in support of kids and parents.

Board Chair Patti Bacchus will no doubt go on the offensive, rather than listen to the recommendations of the Comptroller-General. As with this Tweet to me, she cannot help but lay blame on others. It's time finally for some real leadership from Vision Vancouver. Perhaps, Mayor Robertson, you can pull aside your self-destructing set of school trustees and tell them to focus on our kids?

- post by Mike

31 Comments

Mike... you missed a quote (as expected)

"The Vancouver School Board‟s present financial and operational situation is the result of choices made by the current and PREVIOUS Boards of Trustees."

Some 'news' just makes you smile on a Friday afternoon.

"A non-partisan special adviser appointed by the BC government..."

As if. The Comptroller-General is a cabinet appointee who acts under the direction of the Treasury Board, a cabinet committee chaired by the Minister of Finance. Her terms of reference in this case were carefully crafted by the Gov't to exclude an examination of the sufficiency of provincial gov't funding to the VSB.

The C-G, unlike the Auditor General or the Privacy Commissioner, is not an independent officer of the Legislature. Unfortunately, most people--including too many credulous journalists--are not aware of that fact.

Campbell recently did a similar number on Translink. After strong-arming the Metro region to build the colossally expensive RAV line, while denying Translink the financial means to fulfill its wider responsibilities, the Gov't then appointed the C-G to blame it for the mess Victoria had created.

Hopefully this report will help to take the air out of Patti Backuss and her merry band of vision socialists. They are so arrogant and act as if they know what is best for our children. Or is it really the BCTF they are worried about?? Hmmmm. Way to go McDiarmid! Don't get bullied by these dimwitted socialists.

@Sceptic. Yes, it's always the position of Bacchus and her acolytes to shoot the messenger. I understand that Bacchus is already spinning that the C-G is not "independent" enough for her. Well, interesting that she's saying this now, eh? For those who are interested in a profile of Ms. Wenezenki-Yolland, read this good report by Jonathan Fowlie a few weeks ago http://bit.ly/cZshkK

Unfortunately for everyone involved Bacchus & co. are on a fast track to getting fired. It may be the only resort toward getting help for our schools though. The C-G has made good recommendations, and it's not surprising to any of us that Vision won't abide by them.

@VicRK If there is blame to be assigned toward previous boards (recall that COPE ran the show pre-'05) then so be it. I do recall there was reticence on behalf of the NPA board to close Queen Elizabeth Annex and Garibaldi. In hindsight, they were probably just postponing the inevitable.

When it comes to creating the board's structural deficit, the blame lands squarely on Vision-COPE.

"They are so arrogant and act as if they know what is best for our children."

It's arrogant for elected school trustees to defend services and programmes for students? Perhaps they should have taken a leaf from Gordon Campbell's book and done the very opposite of what they were elected to do.

If one party to a dispute not only appoints the arbiter but also determines what questions she may enquire into, the conclusions are bound to be lopsided at best. As a newly elected School Bd. Trustee, Bacchus was naive to have expected the C-G to conduct an even-handed investigation.

Interesting to see City Caucus eagerly anticipating the firing of elected school trustees--while remaining silent, as always, on the culpability of the Campbell Liberals.

The countdown is now on til just how soon it'll be before Vision apologist Frances Bula takes on Wenezenki-Yolland's report, in support of Frances' BFF, VSB Chair Patti Bacchus.

Then, of course, we'll hear from that other prominent Vision apologist / quasi-journalist, Allen Garr.

Mike, you're right - Wenezenki-Yolland's report places "Bacchus & co. ... on a fast track to getting fired."

Let's see, finally, how Robertson spins this contretemps, given that he fancies himself as the CEO of Vision (such is the instruction Visionistas have been given). Time to step up to the plate, Gregor. We're waiting to hear from you.

The Thought of The Day

"NDP is playing the mandolin. Vision Trustees are 'almost Irish' dancing. Everybody laughs."

You know the saying 'A picture is worth a thousand words' Well, I am saying 'A video-clip is worth a thousand votes'!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_SvuNcPx2dg

And ain't that Simpson a jolly good dancer?

We live in Vancouver and this keeps us busy...and entertained.

Glissy, thank you for this thought and your charming video selection. It's nearly Friday 5 o'clock, which means I'm going to have a glass of wine.

Have a good weekend, all!

Patti and her pals should be fired before Monday. They rolled the dice on our children's future and decided to play politics and have now been exposed by an independent analyst. This has to be the worst, most partisan school board we've seen in decades. Patti should do the right thing and step down before she's canned. How does the hockey song go? Na na na na...na na na na....hey hey aaay...gooodbyye!

Patty do us all a favour and step down and let someone suitable lead the school board. You are a disgrace. Any chance the HST canvassers could help me get some signatures to start a recall bachus campaign? That would be sweet. Then perhaps our school board could stop all the partisan politiking and do the job they were elected to do.

Glissando,LMAO! Your post was worth one thousands hours of laugh therapy. I needed that lift for the weekend. Cheers.

Look closely at the above photo folks. That is the future of government in BC and it's scary. When will Gordon Campbell resign and let someone else take the helm of the bc liberals. This is our only hope against vision/ndp running the province. Not only should Bachus resign, so should Gordon Campbell.

"I didn't run for office so I could carry out this government's dirty
work, and slash programmes." Patti Bacchus, Vancouver School Board Chair.

Gosh, one wonders: who's gonna 'win' this battle between the VSB and the provincial Liberals? Not students, that's for sure.

Patti: Time to turn down the heat, agree to implement the changes Wenezenki-Yolland suggests, commit to doing a better (less political) job, and do the job you were elected to do: represent the interests of students enrolled in the Vancouver school system.

Maybe you didn't notice, Patti: there's a recession going on out there. We've all gotta make do with less. Demonizing the Liberals will get you nowhere but fired. How will that help you serve the educational interests of children?

Actually, the most interesting thing I saw on your quotes was that every single one of them could apply to the Liberal government. Of course the Comptroller's day job is to examine the financial practices of the provincial government yet she has not applied the same critique. In this she ceases to be a comprtoller and becomes a political hired gun.

Another Visionista that wants to shoot the messenger. Why don't you just admit that Bachus has blown it and move on. This is the most arrogant government in a long time, by far. It's time for Patty to resign, NOW. Do the honourable thing and back away before you get fired.

Today the report of the Special Advisor to the VSB was released. The 85 page report was provided to the VSB 10 minutes prior to a press conference by the Minister of Education.

When the Special advisor was appointed, as a trustee, I was hopeful that the report would shine a light on the education funding crisis in the distrcit and the province. However, after reading the report I have concluded that it represents a politically motivated hatchet job on the VSB. The report is full of unsubstantiated innuendo and challenges the integrity of individual trustees. It frustrates me to see a group of 10 accountants including the Comptroller General of BC produce a report than contains, inaccurate, incomplete, and misleading information about the school board budget. After 6 weeks of study the advisor does not provide the VSB with any new ideas for dealing with the significant $17 million shortfall faced by the Board for 2010/11.

The report does not address the critical issue all school district's face across the province - the under funding of public education. It does not even touch the question of the impact of unstable funding, constantly changing provincial government directives. Nothing about educational outcomes. But it is an attack on publicly elected school boards that refuse to quietly do the province's dirty work. It is a report that assumes putting the needs of students first is mismanagement.

As a trustee I am proud of the work of the VSB. I am looking forward to engaging in discussions about the report and the budget with parents and and other stakeholders.

A must watch for interested observers is the full press interview with VSB Chairpersonn Patti Bacchus earlier today:
http://www.facebook.com/l/e1835;today.http://www.cbc.ca/video/player.html?category=News&zone=canada&site=cbc.news.ca&clipid=1513798586

Mike Lombardi
Trustee
Vancouver Board of Education

Socialist pond scum . . fire the lot of them.

What a disgusting bunch, quite useless and unfortunately in charge of our children's future.

Wake up Vancouver . . . socialism sucks, bug time.

It would be interesting to do the same exercise with Vancouver Council. I bet you the comptroller general would find this vision council is at fault for also being incompetent. They spend countless hours pontificating and beating up on other levels of government. They pass motions about backyard chickens and vegetable gardens, meanwhile Rome is burning. Can the Premier order a review of whether vision is competent to run the city government? Please tell me he can. Next we could do the park board and Raj Hundal.

Vaughn Palmer is a must read this morning. I agree with him with the exception of his position on firing the board. There are only two NPA and one COPE trustee that are half decent. The rest are useless, highly partisan and causing more trouble than they're worth. Here is an excerpt from Palmer.

"The report explains how this unlikely way of doing things emerged from the board's preference for decisions made by "consensus," coupled with a growing dependence on committees made up of both trustees and representatives of stakeholder groups...

If this sounds like a board that has elevated its stakeholders to the level of managers, the comptroller reports that some elected trustees prefer "the views of stakeholders over the advice of professional staff."

Others are said to prefer "the views, perspectives and proposals of select stakeholders, relative to those of other stakeholders, and of the Vancouver population at large."

She doesn't name names. But one of the appendices to her report does provide telling details about the makeup of the committees.

The lineup includes representatives of the Vancouver Elementary School Teachers' Association, the Vancouver Secondary Teachers' Association, the Vancouver Association of Secondary School Association Administrators, the Vancouver Elementary Principals and Vice Principals Association, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (two locals), the International Union of Operating Engineers (one local) and the Professional and Administrative Staff Association."

As you can see, the unions are now running our school board through Vision. They're also running council and park board too. Given the chance, they also want to run the province - into the ground.

Not a good situation and one of the reasons the school board is broke. But this is not isolated, it's happening in school board after school board across the province.

The Vision trustees tried to mess with the big boys and now have taken one on the chin. I don't suppose Ms Bacchus will learn her lesson though. It will be the kids who are really the ones who have taken the hit. All because of an agenda driven Board. But the voters got what they asked for. Never forget that.

Mr. Lombardi,

You wrote and I quote:

"It frustrates me to see a group of 10 accountants including the Comptroller General of BC produce a report than contains, inaccurate, incomplete, and misleading information about the school board budget."

Then in the very next sentence...

"After 6 weeks of study the advisor does not provide the VSB with any new ideas for dealing with the significant $17 million shortfall faced by the Board for 2010/11."

Clearly, her comments about the Board, which includes YOURSELF, being woefully inadequate to manage the responsibilities you were elected to carry out, was not innuendo, inaccurate or misleading.

Your second sentence quoted above proves as much.

If you had ideas yourself, that were not politically motivated and incompetent, the comptroller general would not have been called in the first place.

What she did confirm, and you so eliquently unintendedly did as well, was the need for a different set of people to manage the school board.

Since most of the time you can't teach an old dog new tricks, the entire board should resign and save yourself further disgrace.

Frankly Mr. Lombardi, your protestations only serve to prove her report correct, but you still don't get that either.

Pathetic and embarassing.

The Thought of The Day

"Apparently the Vision Trustees in their complete incompetence, mistook the term 'Future of Education' with the term 'Futures Exchange'."

Hey, Lombardi you were supposed to deliver the 'deliverables' NOW, not at a specified time (like everything else on your fishy agenda) in the future.

Again, this one's for you and your pals...doing the NDP dance.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_SvuNcPx2dg

We live in Vancouver and this keeps us busy.

You are on the mark Pardeep. Let's start with Vision Council & Park Board blowing an $11M 08 surplus they inherited + an additional $61M in 09. Then they lay off people with families, cut programmes, hours & close the Bloedel & Farmyard.

Now they're trying to cover this years spending spree overruns by getting LIFT $s from rezonings & misusing properties in the Property Endowment Fund. They plunge headlong into things like bike lanes to where, heaven? Where is the plan for where & how they're spending the $25M when they're laying people off? Nobody has seen it. Does it exist? I challenge them to produce it on Monday. I'm told not even the City works crews know from one day to the next what they're doing. But, the VPD are ticketing right turners from Cambie to Burrard on the new lane. Words like reckless, irresponsible, divisive, uninformed come to mind about their conduct in addition to incompetent.

To read a thoughtful and critical review of the report of the special advisor,see the following article by Dawn Steele,a parent activist in Vancouver.

http://stopeducationcuts.files.wordpress.com/2010/06/response-special-adviser-report-on-vsb-finances.pdf

Mike

Nice try, Mike. How about acknowledging the well-reasoned criticisms of the Comptroller-General instead of deflecting blame on others?

When the special advisor was appointed, I was hopeful that the report would shine a light on the education funding crisis in the district and the province. Unfortunately, the inflammatory tone of the report, along with the numerous misleading and unsubstantiated comments about the VSB and the budget, will deflect from some of the practical recommendations addressed to the board and the Ministry of Education. What should have been a fair and balanced report from the advisor turned out to be an inflammatory report with political overtones that sadly confirms that the comptroller general is not an independent officer of the Legislature, but only an employee of the Ministry of Finance.

Of greater concern to me as a trustee is that the report provides no practical advice to the VSB for dealing with the $17 million-dollar crisis. Furthermore, it claims that the Vancouver School Board has no real financial problems. The report demonstrates a lack of respect for the parents, students, professional employees, and elected trustees-- but also a lack of understanding of the education system and the role of elected trustees in our democratic system of government.

Because the minister of education specifically excluded the provincial funding model from the scope of the work of the Special Advisor, the report does not address the critical issue all school district's across the province face; --the under funding of public education. It does not even touch on the impact of unstable funding and constantly changing provincial government directives. To my dismay, the report contends that putting the needs of students first is mismanagement.

As a trustee, I am looking forward to discussing the report recommendations with the Ministry of Education, VSB staff, and stakeholder groups. It is my hope that some of the practical suggestions for both the board and the ministry can be considered and implemented. However, the process and timeline for appointing the special advisor and the inflammatory tone of the report have created potential barriers to moving forward.

It is my hope that the Minister of Education will demonstrate her willingness and capacity to provide leadership for quality public education in the province. A good first step would be to provide Vancouver and other school districts with additional funding to meet their 2010/11 budget shortfalls and to initiate a review of the funding formula for education funding in BC.”

I look forward to meeting with the Minister of Education on June 8th to discuss the report.

Mike Lombardi
Trustee. VSB

Unfortunately, many of the comments critical of the VSB are rabidly ad hominem, thus reducing their credibility. Better to argue based on a reasonable understanding of accurate information. The VSB is 'home' to the most students with special needs (by both numbers and percentages) of any district in BC, yet has been underfunded in this area for many, many years, including during both NDP provincial and NPA civic eras. It has also created, in response to students' needs and parents' requests, many alternative programmes designed to remediate, enrich and retain learners. The Board oversees a diverse, complicated and demanding number of students and is compelled to plan budgets while never being certain of stable funding. Some moneys are held back, others needed to fund provincially mandated costs (the wage settlement imposed by Vince Ready, for example) are not forthcoming, still more funds, such as capital costs, are rarely available; the method of funding is now and has been for years, unreliable and uncertain. The VSB's budget planning procedure is open and transparent and has demystified the harsh reality of too many needs chasing too few dollars. The very best efforts of this board have been devoted to advocacy for public schools, and this is as it should be. Trustees are political leaders and, Liberal, New Democrat or neither, they ought to understand clearly that public schools - as social institutions, not car factories or investment banks or fast food outlets - are creations of political will. To expect trustees to 'run school boards as though they were businesses' is just plain silly. In fact, I'll pit feisty Patty against Enron, or Lehmann Brothers any day, not to mention the geniuses who run American banks. So, go back to the bleak old days of poor Oliver Twist begging for more gruel, all you who wish to tighten the screws further, I'll continue to support (and vote for) an outspoken, passionately pro-children roster of school board candidates.

Marcy, the Vision/COPE board is being run by their masters at the BCTF. For them to have any credibility they should have turned over all available stones, including wage and/or benefit concessions from the BCTF. Were any asked for or agreed to? Of course not. This was never on the table.

Frank, the school board is not allowed to bargin wages/benefits with the BCTF. The Ministry took back control of any teacher contract items that involve a significant amout of money. If the goverment wants to cut teachers salary then goverment needs to to it - the board has no power in that area.

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