Urgent: CBE Fee Review

In spring 2011, the CBE Board of Trustees significantly increased transportation fees. Due to the resulting uproar, they promised a comprehensive fee review. We are pleased that the CBE has begun work on this fee review process. Good governance means communicating with the public, explaining why the current system functions the way it does, and discovering what is working and what needs to be improved.

The CBE has hired a third-party consultant to conduct this fee review, with the explanation that this is someone who is independent and unbiased. On the other hand, it’s someone who may not know the legal and financial parameters within which the fees exist. It also introduces another middle-man in the chain of communication between the public and decision-makers. Good governance would be for public representatives to communicate directly with their public.

Very short notice was given to invite parents to focus groups which will be, as far as we know, the only time to speak to the issue of fees other than through an online survey which will be coming soon. At 4:40pm on Friday, February 3 an email was sent out to parents who had signed up to be part of “community engagement initiatives” to give them the dates and times of the focus group meetings. There has been nothing posted about this on the CBE website. All sessions will run from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on:

  • Feb. 6 Ranchlands School
  • Feb. 9 Lord Beaverbrook High School
  • Feb. 13 Langevin School
  • Feb. 7 Feb. 21 Vincent Massey School

There is no indication of how responses received will eventually influence decisions. We can assume that a independent consultant will communicate completely and clearly all of the opinions and views that are presented by the public. Good governance would state that when decisions are made, an explanation is given as to how the feedback influenced the decision. There will be times when the feedback received is impossible to implement. In that case, the reasoning for not following the will of the public should be clearly communicated.

Ideally, the public would be given all the necessary background information needed in order to make suggestions that are feasible. Limitations should be clearly stated before the conversation, in order to make the feedback as useful as possible, and to help respondents make best use of their brief opportunity. Here is a list of questions that I, as a parent, felt needed to be answered before I could give an informed opinion (and that I have submitted to the consultant).

Legal questions:

1. According to a CBE legal opinion leaked to the Calgary Herald last year, noon-hour supervision fees for bus eligible students who come to school by other means (eg. by car) are of questionable legality. Then Education Minister Dave Hancock was also quoted as saying noon hour fees should not be charged to students who are not within the school’s walking boundaries. Is the CBE absolutely certain that they are legally able to charge this fee to students who are bus-eligible, but who do not take the bus?

2. Fees are charged to pay for services for my child. It would be a form of taxation if the CBE were charging certain parents more in order to pay for services provided to other students. Would this not be illegal under the School Act? Non-bused students are paying $295 in noon-hour fees, while bus-eligible students are being provided with $176.30 through the CBE Resource Allocation Method (RAM). It then stands to reason that parents who are paying $295 are subsidizing the noon hour supervision of other students. Is the CBE absolutely certain that they are legally able to charge more to parents than what they are providing through RAM?

General questions:

1. If transportation and noon hour supervision are done on a purely cost recovery basis, how did they end up having the exact same fee of $295? Please provide a detailed breakdown of revenues and expenses to show how the CBE arrived at the number $295 for each service.

2. Are there any other options for determining which families can receive waivers other than receiving Social Services assistance or getting the Alberta Works Child Health Benefit?

3. Why is there a family maximum for Instructional Supplies and Materials Fees of $264 per year, but no maximum for noon hour supervision or transportation fees?

Questions regarding transportation fees:

1. How many K-12 CBE students are on charter buses? How many of those students go to alternative programs? How many are on special needs buses?

2. How many CBE students take the Kindergarten noon-hour charter busses? How many of those students go to alternative programs?

3. How many conditional riders take charter buses?

4. How many students take city transit to school? Approximately what percentage of those transit users submit their transit passes in order to obtain their rebate?

5. In 2010-11, the CBE received the following transportation funding from the province. (Alberta Education provided these numbers to me.) Could you provide the numbers used to calculate this year’s funding (ie. the # of expected passengers, special needs students and additional funding)?

No. of Expected Eligible Passengers  33,448 x $538.00   $17,995,024.00
Special Needs Students                2502 x $2857.00   $ 7,148,214.00
Additional Funding                                      $ 1,991,049.00
TOTAL ALLOCATION FOR 2010/2011                          $27,134,287.00

6. How many charter busses does the CBE contract for designated schools? For schools of choice? For special needs students?

7. What is the average cost of a charter bus per year?

8. How much more in fees revenue did the CBE receive due to eliminating the family maximum?

9. How much would the CBE save by only providing one way transportation to Kindergarten students?

10. How much would the CBE save by having junior high students take transit unless they are part of a middle school or are special needs?

11. The CBE has recently been “single-tracking” schools, thus reducing the number of neighbourhood schools offering a regular program and increasing the need for students in older neighbourhoods to be transported to their designated school. Are there any estimates as to how this strategy has increased transportation costs?

Questions regarding noon hour supervision fees:

1. In the CBE Resource Allocation Method (RAM) document, it states that all Gr. 1-6 bus eligible (not just bused) students receive $176.30 for noon hour supervision. Why are bus eligible students who are driven to school also being charged the $295 fee even though they are already getting funding for this through RAM?

2. Gr. 7-9 bus eligible students receive $86.35 in RAM, for noon hour supervision, but non-bus eligible students do not pay any noon hour supervision fee even when they eat at school. Why is there no junior high noon supervision fee charged?

3. How much will the CBE spend in total on elementary noon hour supervision this year? How much of that is provided through RAM and how much through collected fees?

4. Because they are unionized, noon hour supervision staff spend many more hours in the school performing other duties other than just noon hour supervision. Does the budgeted amount for noon hour supervision include the total cost of these employees, or just the time that they spend performing noon hour supervision? (ie. Are parents paying fees for only noon hour supervision, or also for other non-related school duties?)

5. Are principals required to use all noon-hour supervision revenues, through RAM and fees, for noon-hour supervision, or can these revenues be used for other purposes? How does the CBE monitor this?

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