Telling Tales out of School

with Nick Martin

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  • All kinds of stuff about Ed Hume

    10/17/2014 3:08 PM

    The bad news, Ed, is I won’t be doing a profile piece in the paper on you.

    And I don’t know if writing about you here constitutes good news....

    St. James-Assiniboia SD King Edward/Deer Lodge ward school trustee incumbent Ed Hume wanted me to separate him out from the crowd for a piece in the dead trees edition, and that’s not going to happen, but when he sent me his platform, it was not just jargon and cliches...not limited to promises of transparency and fiscal responsibility and quality education, with no details about how he’d do it, the way you see ‘platforms’ from too many candidates. Instead, ideas you can accept or reject, but ideas he’s fleshed out.

    Coincidentally, when Hume emailed me, a letter appeared that same day in my mail slot, in an envelope and everything (ask your grandparents). I brushed the cobwebs out of my mail slot and opened it.

    Seems that one of Hume’s would-be constituents believed he had Hume in a gotcha moment.

    The voter sent a copy of Hume’s brochure in which Hume listed as accomplishments the new track and soccer pitch at St. James Collegiate and George Waters Middle School. And the helpful correspondent included school board minutes from Oct. 9, 2012, of a recorded vote in which Hume voted against the expenditure.

    Oh, that doesn’t look good at all, Mr. or Ms. Voter. Did I mention that all of this was unsigned, just a typed ‘Bourkevale Community Club Volunteer’?

    That takes a lot of gumption.

    So I asked Hume, and he said, yes, indeed he voted against the project, but he only did so because the Bourkevale CC had yet to vote on giving up part of its property to the school project. When the community club members voted in favour of the project, that’s when he gave his support at the school board.

    Anyway, do with his explanation what you will — Hume has some ideas, specific ideas that go beyond platitudes and generalizations.

    He said that the corporate board of directors model of governance "doesn’t serve the public that well. We need to move to the Parliamentary model, one where trustees can truly act as elected representatives like councillors, MLA’s, and MP’s and as you correctly put it ‘should be saying whatever you want to — while remaining civil’."

    Hang on out there, no, I don’t pay attention to you just because you agree with me, though, in this case I’ve been pushing like totally forever for trustees to take personal responsibility as elected officials and speak up, be they in the majority or minority on an issue.

    Hume also wants to reallocate spending to hold down taxes, and the way to do that is for trustees to make decisions they’ve been leaving to administration. "I feel the problem is that the chief superintendent tends to guard this area and there aren’t enough trustee initiated program reviews!" said Hume.

    Ron, I know how much you’d like to jump in here, but you’re such a prudent chap. Let me suggest that Hume consider the possibility that employing administrators who are highly-qualified educators and leaving it up to them to figure out the best ways to implement policies and goals set by the board are sort of how governance is supposed to happen.

    Speaking of which, Hume wants school trustees in classrooms, invited in by teachers: "I feel they(trustees) often don’t understand the realities of the modern day classroom. If this were encouraged, in my opinion, trustees would be able to make more informed decisions. They would have their own independent view of what was going on in classrooms rather than having to depend on community gossip and the chief superintendent’s report."

    Ron, feeling like Ed may not be organizing your fan club?

    Teachers — and the union can jump in here anytime — do you want school trustees in your classroom? Maybe you’d work harder and make kids smarter if there were trustees looking over your shoulder, just as it sure doesn’t affect the learning environment atmosphere in the room if the principal or area superintendent is at the back of the room jotting down notes, and scowling from time to time.

    People keep asking me why I’m not in classrooms telling it as it is, and that’s because no teacher in her or his right mind would ever make a career-dooming move to invite in a reporter without having the principal and superintendent signing off on it.

    From there, we move on to s*x...Hume wants ‘a more balanced family life program’.

    Specifically, he said, for every Winnipeg Regional Health Authority safe sex poster that goes up in a school, there should be a poster promoting abstinence.

    "We don’t spend enough time teaching on this topic. There are some great resources out there that support the abstinence concept. Unfortunately we tend to take a skewed approach to family life programming...Some students can show self-control and some cannot, thus I believe in an equal emphasis on both would benefit all."

    No, Candace, you’re not eligible to vote in St. James.

    Finally, Hume is advocating adding non-voting student trustees to the board, who would be elected by their peers.

    "It gives students more voice in their own education and helps trustees make more informed decisions...The purpose of student trustees is to advise the board on what they see going in their schools, so again trustees can make better decisions, which ultimately affects them. It also has the potential to get students interested in the political process and we certainly need more of that these days! Student trustees would give their report in the public session and would not be allowed to attend in camera meetings."

    Meanwhile, I see by Hume’s brochure that he’d eliminate one of the three assistant superintendents, and wants trustees involved in the selection of school administrators. I thought trustees voted on who becomes a principal or vice-principal, that that’s what all those closed door meetings are all about in late June and early July, when retirements and transfers set off musical offices. But that’s trustees voting on recommendations from the supes. OK, so don’t leave education up to educators, go ahead and let Ed micromanage — is everyone running in SJASD prepared to put in that much time? — and maybe those trustees can fill in for the fired assistant superintendent while they’re spending all that much time in classrooms.

    The man has ideas, and that should be welcomed among all the cliches. So, on Wednesday, Hume is more than just a sort-of-familiar name, and you can judge him on his beliefs and values.

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  • Yes, Rocky, it would have been OK, and other trustee election stuff

    10/10/2014 10:54 AM

     

     

    I happened to run into Rockford McKay the other day, and we chatted a bit about his campaign to win a St. James-Assiniboia school board seat in Silver Heights-Booth ward.

    McKay had been elected as a school trustee in 2006, and at the time I thought he was one of the brighter young lights in public education in the city. Winnipeg — indeed Manitoba — has a severe shortage of Aboriginal school trustees, let alone Aboriginal school trustees who are also highly-accomplished educators.

    But the people of SJA in their greater wisdom didn’t see it that way, and turfed McKay out of office in 2010. He finished fourth in a race for three seats, falling seven votes short of the third-place finisher.

    That would be the former newspaper publisher who thinks reporters will submit their stories to him for his approval prior to publication...but I digress.

    When we chatted, McKay mused that maybe it had cost him back in 2010 not to raise the issue of that third-place finisher’s having his own kids in private school.

    I told McKay that it would be entirely appropriate to do so.

    Just as it’s entirely appropriate to ask candidates why they’re running to represent an area of the school division in which they do not live, it’s entirely appropriate to ask candidates why they want to run the public school system if their own children are in private school. They certainly have the right to do so, but voters have the right to ask for an explanation.

    I recall a byelection in which the candidate had his kids in private school, as I recall in a faith-based school and in a school which the family believed best met another child’s special needs. He explained his reasons, voters considered them among other factors, he was not successful.

    There’s Caroline Winship running for Mystery Lake school board in Thompson, who home-schools her kids. I wrote about her a few months ago when the school division wouldn’t allow her home-schooled son to enrol in band at the local public school; all or nothing said the school division. Thompson voters have the right to ask why a home-schooling parent wants to run the public school system.

    You may get the answer from candidates with kids in private school that the public school system is so deplorable that the candidate has no choice but to put his or her children in private school, lest their kids’ lives be doomed from the first day of kindergarten, and you may hear that the only way to save the public school system from its wretched state is to put the private-school parent on the school board.

    You may get an answer which convinces you not to raise the issue publicly.

    But you have the right to ask.

    Moving along, but staying with elections....

    I see signs up in Ward 4 Winnipeg SD in which candidate Julia Javier proclaims the slogan "for better education."

    I’d appreciate anyone out there letting me know if you come across a candidate whose slogan is "for worse education."

    And, no, I don’t want to hear from certain candidates on Twitter that that should be the campaign slogan of their opponents, do try to play nicely with others.

    When you hear and see this stuff, you really have to ask people to explain what they mean: what is a better education, and how does that candidate propose to achieve it?

    This is an election in which another candidate’s notion of a better education would include creationism, abstinence-only sex ed, and allowing kids the choice of buying junk food in schools.

    So, see past the clichés, and ask.

    Harumph.

    And elsewhere...

    One of the people who’s seeking my vote has said several times on Twitter — a social medium we old people favour, and which may become the next big thing if young people ever discover it — that if you don’t like the way things have gone, you should toss out every incumbent.

    I guess that makes sense. Shannon, you taught poli-sci, makes sense, eh?

    If you didn’t like the way Glen Murray ran the city, throw out Al Golden. Don’t like Harper? Then defeat Pat (no relation) Martin. You’re unhappy with Greg Selinger, then, obviously, toss Kelvin Goertzen out on his ear.

    Sigh. 

    Back in St. James...

    Don Woodstock is running for city council in St. Charles ward, but keeps contacting me.

    Woodstock wanted the SJASD to tell its principals to hold all-candidate forums for the city council races. He says the superintendent passed on his request to principals, but Woodstock has still not heard anything back, and now he wants me to follow up.

    Presumably, I would follow up to express public outrage and to shame the principals into immediately convening one in the school gym this afternoon.

    No, I won’t, because it’s not the principals’ responsibility to do so. For the fourth time, I’ve recently moderated a council race debate for one of child the elder’s former teachers, and it’s gone well, even though the teachers in the room were the only ones old enough to vote. But I know what the logistics were like for the teacher to find a time when the candidates could make it, it fit the students’ timetables, and there was a large enough space available in the school.

    I told Woodstock that all-candidates’ meetings usually get organized by community groups who then book space in the school library or all-purpose room...in your dreams, I’m afraid, they’d need the gym to accommodate the crowds that ACMs get.

    But, having at the same time received candidate Woodstock’s diatribe about the personal integrity of Coun. Grant Nordman, I’m thinking that a high school which offers law as an option credit course might find a St. Charles ACM a useful teaching tool.

    Staying with Don Woodstock....

    I don’t know how Aldo, Bartley, Dan, Mary Agnes, and all the other pundits have missed raising this with mayoral and council candidates, but Woodstock is urging amalgamation of school boards...which I had not realized was a city council issue.

    Silly me.

    Woodstock feels it deserves full caps, so, to be accurate, what he said was, "I SAY AMALGAMATION. WHAT DO YOU SAY???"

    Candidate Woodstock, I did read your analysis of the quality of public education. Though, other than somehow removing an NDP conspiracy from the mix, I don’t quite understand how amalgamation would improve the quality of education — can you help me out there?

    It would be a great help to me in my job, and admittedly a shortcut for me, if you could supply a list of the people being paid $200,000 a year "to administrate over this educational farce."

    BTW, I’m trying to find a definition of the verb "administrate"; will keep trying.

    I would also greatly appreciate your saving me time by providing me a list of all the "power-hungry psychopaths" working as public school adminintrators.

    Thanks.

    And now for something completely different....

    Not election-related at all, but I’m at home before work listening to CBC this morning, the local part, and they do this thing in which they play a couple of minutes from an alleged comedian’s routine. So this morning it’s a Scottish guy, and he’s doing a routine on Scottish food, which is not that much different from Geordie food, so I can see the potential....and this guy starts saying that Scottish food is so bad that it’s better to be starving in Africa than to eat Scottish food, that there’s more nutrition in Africans not having anything to eat than there is in the food that Scots eat, and he talks about African parents telling their kids they’re better off with no food than Scottish kids are, and I put down my spoonful of Bran Buds and berries and one per cent milk, and I’m yelling back at the radio, why in the world does anyone think this is funny, and why is the audience laughing?

    OK, I’m calming down now, back to the election...

    This is really turning into a St. James day....

    Ed Hume is an incumbent in King Edward/Deer Lodge ward of SJASD, who thinks that I should single him out from among the city’s 100-plus candidates for a full interview and profile story.

    Somewhat mysteriously, Hume says that I interviewed him three years back on the new report cards, and he paid the price, but now, "We’re into an election I can say whatever I want to."

    Which allows me to point out for the umpteenth time that, whatever the Manitoba School Boards Association says about trustees being members of a board of directors who seek consensus and then allow only the board chair to speak publicly, you are elected as individuals and should be saying whatever you want to — while remaining civil, being aware that students are minors, and remaining cognizant of libel and slander laws — throughout your four years on the board.

    I knew I couldn’t get through this without referring to Mike Babinsky, and so I would hold him up as someone who understands that he is free to speak his mind.

    Anyway, Ed, I’m dubious that Big Editor (not his real name) will OK my singling you out for a profile piece, but, meanwhile, I did have a look at your website.

    So I’m wondering...how would you get low taxes? What would you not spend money on, in order to get low taxes?

    Just how much access would you give trustees to classrooms, how often, and why?

    What does "a more balanced family life program" mean?

    And this idea of having student trustees — why wouldn’t you allow them to vote? Could they attend in camera sessions?

     

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  • Ramos, at 19:58 of the third

    10/3/2014 6:16 PM

    City council candidate Anthony Ramos is waiting until the final meeting of his eight years on the Winnipeg School Division board to file a motion likely to attract major media attention.

    That’s the kind of media attention that has eluded Ramos since first being elected as a trustee in 2006.

    Ramos has proposed a motion to be heard by WSD board Monday evening that would ban e-cigarettes on all division property.

    Ramos is one of five candidates for the Point Douglas city council seat, a field that includes incumbent Mike Pagtakhan.

    Ramos hasn’t responded to email and voice mail messages left on Wednesday.

    A check of Winnipeg Free Press archives shows that Ramos’s name has appeared 24 times in the paper going back to his first election as a school trustee in 2006.

    But most of those appearances were in lists of candidates running or elected, lists of trustees named as chairs of boards or committees, and for-and-against accounts of recorded votes.

    Ramos was named in stories commenting on board discussions only a handful of times, briefly and well down in the stories.

    I only quoted him extensively on the occasion when Ramos was named the first board chairman of Filipino heritage. Then, he talked about what it meant to be a role model, but did not discuss WSD policies.

    A couple of years ago, Ramos introduced his own motions to urge Premier Greg Selinger to come to the board to discuss unspecified special needs issues, and to discuss the need for an additional high school in the city’s northwest. But Ramos, without explanation, asked the board to discuss his motions behind closed doors.

    Ramos is considered an NDP member of the board. He was teaching electricity at College Sturgeon Heights Collegiate during some of his time on the WSD board, but his voice mail now identifies himself as Brother Anthony Ramos, a field agent for the Knights of Columbus.

    E-cigarettes flared briefly as a national issue last school year after one school board elsewhere in Canada banned them. WSD and other city divisions said at the time that e-cigarettes are not a problem in Winnipeg schools or on school property.

    Also running for the Point Douglas ward are Rebecca Chartrand, Dale White, and Anne Thompson.

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  • Some reality checks on claims about WSD

    10/1/2014 3:41 PM

    I saw a school board candidate tweet the other day that Winnipeg School Division had a tax freeze in 2011, after which there was an NDP takeover of the board.

    I also saw reference to the possibility of a 25 per cent property tax increase in WSD.

    I can’t remember which of the candidates I follow who posted these, or maybe I saw them as an RT — I’m sure they’ll comment right away to take authorship credit.

    OK, where will we start?

    There was no NDP takeover of the board — the NDP has pretty much had a majority of seats since I started covering WSD school board in 1997, usually augmented by Liberals whose policies and values didn’t differ much from the N-Dippers, people such as Anita Neville or Joyce Bateman.

    At times it could get quite hostile, people such as Mike Babinsky, Betty Granger, and Luba Fedorkiw on one side of the table, Kristine Barr, Lori Johnson, and Liz Ambrose on the other, firing laser beams back and forth with their eyes.

    You may, as some candidates obviously do, consider the NDP presence to be and have been a bad thing. But somebody out there voted for them.

    There’s been secrecy and doing business behind closed doors, which are never good things, and I’ve been complaining about the situation for like totally forever.

    But then there are the things the board achieved, and again, you may delight that it did so, you may find it inherently evil. Things such as full 10-month nursery, the experiment with full-day kindergarten, anti-homophobia education, the most extensive special needs programming in the province, the Child Guidance Clinic, breakfast programs paid out of property taxes, a housing registry, a range of high school options pretty much unparalleled in Manitoba.

    Staff and programs cost money, and taxes tend to go up.

    Was there a tax freeze in 2011?

    Yes, but only because of two factors, the province-wide reassessment of properties, from which WSD benefitted — it has always had the greatest commercial assessment base in Manitoba — and from the province’s ponying up $9.58 million in tax incentive grants.

    That combination produced the same mill rate as the year before, and covered off the usual significant increase in money collected through property taxes. But the TIG program only lasted four years, though any money paid became part of a division’s base funding.

    Meanwhile, that year WSD increased spending by $11.5 million and per-student spending by $388.

    Really bad ideas, or money well spent? Again, your perspective.

    You can’t go by mill rates, because they change substantially every two years after province-wide reassessment. Remember, you get a mill rate by dividing the amount of money you want to collect through property taxes by the total assessment base.

    Check all the stats out for yourself at http://www.edu.gov.mb.ca/k12/finance/index.html.

    Meanwhile, meanwhile, the reference to a 25 per cent property tax increase...I think that was somehow linked to the possibility of full-day nursery and full-day kindergarten throughout the division. This year it’s a pilot project of full-day kindergarten in four elementary schools.

    Latest figures I saw for division-wide full-day nursery and kindergarten would require doubling the $6-million-or-so nursery budget, which comes entirely from property taxes, and adding 117 kindergarten teachers ballparked at $60,000 a year, which is altogether about a nine per cent increase in property taxes if introduced in one fell swoop, plus money for operating costs for additional classroom space.

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About Nick Martin

Nick Martin is the old bearded guy at the back of the newsroom, the most experienced reporter at the Winnipeg Free Press, having started his career in Ontario in 1971.

He’s been covering education for the Free Press since the spring of 1997, after decades primarily covering municipal politics, including a four-year stint at the Ontario legislature for the London Free Press.

Nick moved to Manitoba in 1988 with his Winnipeg-born wife, who is a professor at the University of Manitoba. They have two kids, both of whom graduated from Grant Park High School: son Chris and daughter Gillian.

Nick has won a national journalism award from the Canadian Association of University Teachers, two Manitoba Human Rights Journalism awards, and the Ontario Reporters Association investigative award.

Nick is a long-distance runner, having finished and survived 18 marathons and 15 half-marathons and 30-kilometre races, and having (barely) survived 10 years as an outdoor and indoor soccer coach.

Nick became a soccer referee in 2007, delighting in his 60s in outrunning 16-year-olds and keeping his distance from obstreperous coaches and parents.

Nick and his wife have discovered a mutual love for kayaking at their Whiteshell cottage, and are both regulars at the Reh-Fit Centre. They hold season tickets to both the Manitoba Theatre Centre and the Warehouse, and as empty nesters, have rediscovered the joys of an active winter vacation.

A native of Jarrow-on-Tyne, England, Nick is a member of the Toon Army as a Newcastle United supporter, and a proud citizen of Leafs Nation.

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