I have a personal policy of attending all significant provincial events hosted at the schools in my neighbour. This meant that I was in the audience at Bluefield High School in Hampshire when Catherine Callbeck didn’t call an election. And that I was in the audience at Prince Street School last night for the meeting of Eastern School District, which has a commendable policy of holding each of their monthly meetings in a different school.
Opening day enrollment in the Eastern District was 13,150. I was one of two parents at last night’s meeting: obviously there’s not a deep and abiding interest in school policy in the district, which is a shame, as the proceedings were, in general, informative and the meeting was crisply run. Not to everyone’s taste, perhaps, but it would be nice to get the ratio above 1 parent per 6575 students for future meetings.
The meeting began with a presentation from Terry MacIsaac, Principal at Prince Street. He gave the trustees a snapshot of the situation on the ground at the school:
- 238 students on opening day.
- Over the course of the last school year there was a 25% turnover of the student population.
- Many single-parent families and families living in rental apartments in the school’s zone.
- 22 teachers on staff this year, along with 7 educational assistants and 1 youth worker.
- There are many international students at the school, many as refugees from countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan and Burma. 26 students are “English as an additional language” students.
- Every morning 80-90 kids take advantage of the school breakfast program, which is run almost entirely by volunteers.
- The school received $71,000 from Indigo Books to be spent over 3 years; books will be purchased by teachers and students, and all books picked by students will have a “recommended by…” bookplate pasted in them.
Next, Shelley Muzika from the “Parent of Prince Street” home and school association spoke briefly about the activities of the group; the chair mentioned, after she was finished, that Prince Street is recognized across the district as having one of the most active home and school groups.
There were two presentations scheduled under the “Public Input” section of the agenda. The District sends out notices in advance of every meeting welcoming individuals or groups to make representation to the trustees; for this meeting Leo Broderick (Council of Canadians) and Mary Boyd (Development and Peace) came to speak about bottled water, and consultant Suzanne Hastings James came to read a letter regarding the work she did with parents in Souris last year.
The presentation on bottled water was a request to ban the sale of bottled water in District schools. While the arguments against bottled water were convincing, the presentations from Broderick and Boyd droned on for almost an hour, and were rambling and often completely off-point, which only served to dull the impact of their message. What they achieved in 60 minutes could have been better achieved, with greater impact, in a focused and direct 5-minute summary of the issue.
The bottled water presentation was made somewhat comical (some would say tragically so) by the fact that most trustees and members of the audience took advantage of the free bottles of “Big 8” water made available in the refreshment area; props to District chair Robert Clow for having the gumption to take a big swig of water while the presenters were going on about the antimony-laced bottles and commodification of a sacred resource: nobody else, including me, dared to touch the water until they were out of the room.
Suzanne Hastings James introduced herself as a longtime educator and consultant who worked with a parent group in Souris last year to develop a set of recommendations to the District regarding school consolidation in that area. Her presentation consisted entirely of reading a letter she had forwarded earlier to the Chair, a letter in which, in essence, she tore a strip off the District for not acting on her group’s report. Her presentation was followed by a somewhat bizarre castigation by the Chair who seemed aghast that a consultant would, outside of her consulting relationship, make independent representation to the District. He also suggested that the District had, in fact, acted on several recommendations, and was continuing to do so.
The Public Input phase came to a close, and the meeting turned to the workaday business of the District.
First, Superintendent Sandy MacDonald presented his Executive Summary Report, the high points of which were:
- There were some transportation issues at the beginning of the school year, as there are every year; these are expected to be ironed out over the next two weeks.
- There are 25 extra teacher in the District this year.
- Summer capital projects were all completed, and all schools were ready to go for opening day.
- Opening day enrollment in 2007 was 13,444, which dropped to 13,342 by October when the official count was taken.
- Opening day enrollment in 2008 was 13,150, which is similarly expected to drop by the time the official count is taken in October.
- In 2007 there were 3 schools with less than 50 students.
- In 2008 there are 7 schools with less than 50 students, and 10 schools with less than 100 students.
- In two weeks the District will have a report available summarizing class size per school.
- There have been 400 new “English and an additional language” students in the District over the past two years, and it’s expected there will be an additional 200 this year, with the influx being in October and February (this is down from the 500-600 EAL students expected earlier).
- The District is in a much better position to serve “English and an additional language” students this year, with additional EAL teachers on staff.
- There are 54 active buses and 21 “spare” buses in the District’s fleet; spare buses are used, for example, when an active bus has a breakdown.
- The oldest active buses are from 1997; there are 9 of them.
- There are 29 buses from 1998.
- There are 39 brand new 2008 buses, purchased this summer.
The Superintendent’s report was followed by the report of the Exeutive Committee, presented by the Chair, which largely concerned matters related to the Board of Trustees itself: orientation, professional development, policy development and a communications strategy. The District is going to take additional measures this year to “tell its story” to the media, sending out press releases after District meetings, and press releases highlighting achievements of schools.
Next, the Finance and Audient Committee report was presented by Ron Lee, who co-chairs that Committee. He brought forward a directive from the Minister of Education that “user fees” were to be gradually eliminated from schools, and indicated that the District budget had been increased for the 2008-2009 year to offset the additional costs for doing so. There are to be no new user fees introduced in schools, and those that are in place now are to be gradually phased out, with the first two fees, musical instrument rental fees and graduation fees, to be eliminated this year, with others to follow in future years, with the goal of eventually eliminating all user fees. There was a motion to this effect which passed unanimously.
The Committee’s report finished with the a motion to approve a revised budget for the 2008-2009 year, revised because the “Budget Letter” from the Minister hadn’t been received before the passage of the budget earlier in the year.
The meeting finished up with several administrative matters: the Provincial Declining Enrollment Study was mentioned, and it was indicated that this issue will be taken up in Committee; the activities of the PEI School Trustee Association were reviewed, and information provided about their Annual Meeting in September, and the resignation of Trustee Julius Patkai was announced (he has resigned because he’s taken a position in the USA for a year).
The meeting adjourned at about 9:10 p.m.