The CBE’s Christmas Present to Me

On November 1, 2011, I asked the following question at a Calgary Board of Education public board meeting. (The video clip can be found below.)

“Will you please provide the Resource Allocation Method (RAM) formula that was used for school budgets in elementary, junior high and senior high and unique setting schools for the 2011-2012 school year, with all categories and amounts?”

I asked this because ARTICS was concerned that Chief Superintendent Naomi Johnson had disregarded the Board of Trustee’s motion to distribute the additional $19.2 million from the province via RAM. You can read more about that in our public letter to the Board. I received the following response to my inquiry.

“Chair Cochrane and trustees, I would be prepared to comment tonight, and I just would like to show you that this is our document around resource allocation [holds it up]. And it is a complicated document and what I would say is we are pleased to provide the resource allocation method formula for all schools and all categories for the 2011-2012 school year to Ms. Hurdman. The information is exceptionally complicated, so we would propose to provide this information in person to Ms. Hurdman, with support from our finance leaders to explain the information.”

I wrote to the corporate secretary on November 7, asking if I needed to contact someone to arrange this meeting. I did not receive a response, so I wrote again on November 24, asking again. On November 28, I was informed that someone from the Finance department would arrange the meeting. On December 3, I contacted the Finance department and was told that it would be done in December. On December 19, the corporate secretary contacted me to say that CBE staff would be available the next day or the day after (Dec. 20 or 21).

So yesterday I went to my meeting expecting to leave with a clearer understanding of RAM and the RAM document. What actually happened is the stuff of nightmares for a mother of three children, ages 7, 5 and 2, who four days before Christmas, had to spend almost seven hours in a tiny room being supervised as I was forced to copy out the 56 page document by hand. To give credit where it is due, they did provide me with a pad of paper, a pen and a glass of water. However, the CBE refused to let me take the document with me, despite multiple requests, with no explanation given as to why I could not have it. They admitted that this document was in every principal’s office and it says in the document that it is accessible to thousands of CBE employees on their Intranet. But I could only read it, take notes, and under no circumstances take it with me.

Worse, the document was presented to me by someone in the Finance department, who then promptly left after two minutes, leaving me under the supervision of a Communications staff member. I was told I could e-mail in my questions after reading the document. At first it was even questioned whether I was allowed to take notes. I was not allowed to mark up the photocopied document in any way. I asked if I could photograph the pages. No. I made it clear that I was prepared to copy out the entire thing by hand if need be, but I was not leaving without the document. Go ahead, they said. I cannot even tell you who “they” are, as I had to go through the staff member in the room who would type something on her laptop and then relay the responses. When I asked to speak with whoever was refusing to give me the document, I was refused.

Whenever my “supervisor” left for a break, or lunch (I worked the full seven hours straight), she would be replaced by someone else who would stare at the wall. Is this really a good use of CBE employee time?

Sometime in the afternoon, my trustee, Joy Bowen-Eyre popped her head in. I expressed my concerns to her that this is not what Chief Superintendent Johnson had promised me as there was no one to answer my questions and I was unable to take the document with me. She said, “Consider this the CBE’s Christmas present to you.”

I know that I ask tough questions, especially regarding the CBE budget. I know that this does not make me popular at CBE headquarters, but is this any way to treat a mother who obviously cares very deeply about education? I know that I could have easily acquired the document by asking a CBE employee to leak it to me, or through making a FOIP request and paying $25 plus copying charges and waiting 90 days, but I kept hoping that they would do the right thing. I guess my hope was in vain.

**December 23 Update**
The RAM document is now publicly available on the CBE website.

Chief Superintendent promises to provide RAM document from ARTICS AssocResponsiveTrusteeCgy on Vimeo.

9 thoughts on “The CBE’s Christmas Present to Me

  1. Wow. That is really ridiculous. I can’t believe that you had to go through all of that to get materials that were promised to you anyway! Hopefully there are some useful items in that document and you can figure out why they’ve shrouded it in secrecy.

    That is amazing work by the way. Your dedication to improving things ought to be lauded by the CBE and not considered threatening.

  2. Why is it you think you have the right to see an internal planning document and right to take it out of the central office building. No Albertan can get this type of information from our provincial or federal government.

    Why did you not go see your local school principal? You are not a victim so don’t play that card.

    1. This document is exactly like the Alberta Education funding manual which is freely available on their website. This is not a planning document. This is how the CBE distributes all funding to schools.

      And why would I see my school principal when I didn’t even know she had it and I was promised the document by the Chief Superintendent?

  3. You know, for a Government, (and therefore by proxy, a School Board who receives funding from said Government) who promotes “Transparency” as being a key issue, that’s a rather “opaque” approach.

    As an aside, I sit on the Parent Council of my son’s school, and the Principal had both myself and the Chairperson in to explain the add’l funding that was received. Perhaps that lack of explanation/veil of secrecy only applies to the self-important mucky-mucks at the top? As a taxpayer, we should ABSOLUTELY have the right to know how funds were allocated.

  4. Thank you Trina for your dedication. If you look at the Alberta Education website, you can see very clearly how dollars are allocated to each board . . .what is not clear is how much of those dollars get to schools and how much is kept centrally by the CBE.

    Trustees at one point should have debated and come approved this policy in PUBLIC – so, that means, the resulting document is public. (And if they didn’t, you have to ask, WHY NOT?)

    I believe, but haven’t actually checked, that Calgary Catholic’s school funding model is available on line . .(they have a different model, so you can’t compare the two as far as numbers go . . . ) CCSD budget – with much more detailed numbers than CBE provides – also gives you a much better idea of how they are allocating funds.

    With their decentralized funding model, the CBE’s ram formula should be included in each and every budget document . . that would be transparent.

  5. I think the CBE has proven time and time again that they won’t “do the right thing”. I have no confidence in the board.

  6. Wow, Trina, thanks for your commitment to this!

    To Brad Colson, I’m wondering in what way you are comnnected to the CBE? I’m thinking you must either work there or be a friend or relative of a trustee to have such a bizarre attitude. Clearly there is an unusual bias with you.

    Of course it is our right as parents and taxpayers to know how our tax dollars are allocated in our educational system. The fact that the CBE claims to be transparent is laughable in light of this. These people are working with our money and the attitude that we have no right to information about how it is spent is ridiculous. Thank heavens there are watchdogs like Trina to hold them accountable.

  7. I don’t know if anyone has the trademark on being difficult, but what also stands out to me is the alleged and flippant comment “consider this the CBE’s Christmas present to you” as lobbed by a school trustee. At this point for me, there is more reason to believe the true nature of the comment and collusion. To be fair, perhaps some trustees require some muzzling (not the public) or a course in public relations at least, and a fine lesson on playground nice-playing. Because “This is a meeting of the Board of Trustees that is held in public, it is not a public meeting; it is a meeting of the Board of Trustees” is also a recent quote (in the media by the same trustee) but also found elsewhere on that mother of all knowledge and thought, the internet. It’s a sentence that reminds us in Chrissy Snow fashion that a board should like to make its own rules but as learned, may expect to hear from others. Those with the CBE (who’ve decided to release the RAM) in this way, to a parent, then online a day later, further toy with the ceremony of public opinion. I can’t fault a parent for copying a document as provided and the seemingly only option provided, while the document is also proven to be on request for some time. Hopefully more people inside the organization as well as the growing number outside are beginning to care and not only by following the antics or because this actually or officially looks bad. Spin doctoring, media alliance, savvy blogging and re-branding have nothing to do with the good educating of children. It’s no wonder there appears appetite for private meetings or engagements, recent interest in videoing their own board meetings and changing the rules of the game. Thank you all the same for putting this out there and letting us decide. This should also come as fair notice, that School Boards and Trustees are already on display without achievement results, twitter, video, youtube, facebook, email, blogville, public commentary, addressing the board or the hand copying of mega documents. Your character speaks for itself. School Boards and Trustees continuing to carrying on like this, when times have changed, and are changing more, in solidarity or not together, with or without the province stepping in, admin cozy or not, will come to feel their own embarrassment eventually.

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