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Thank You!

To all those who helped me get elected by donating to my campaign, phoning, door knocking, and especially voting, many thanks for your support. It was a lot of work but please know that I will be continuing to work hard to represent the voice of the constituents of Ward 71 at the Board level.  To those of you who did not vote for me, please know that I have heard your concerns and as the new trustee for Ward 71 will work with you to address these concerns.  I believe in working together to find win-win solutions.  In working together we may not get exactly what we both wanted but we will hopefully move forward together.  This has been my experience working in my community — I didn’t get all or exactly what I wanted for many projects but I got some things.  I hope that with the help of the Spirit we can work together to move our Catholic school district forward to provide excellence in education in a context that teaches our children the inherent dignity of all humanity and the great love that Jesus has for all of us.

Crunching Some More Numbers

Below you will find a comparison of remuneration of trustees from Edmonton Catholic School District (ECSD), Edmonton Public School Board (EPSB) and Calgary Catholic School District (CCSD) as of August, 2012 from the Audited Financial Statements posted online at http://education.alberta.ca/admin/funding/audited.aspx.  You will notice that ECSD trustees receive a much higher salary than EPSB and CCSD despite that fact that they govern fewer schools and students.  Here are the facts:

ECSD:

Average Trustee Salary:  $65,833 (does not include expenses)

EPSB:

Average Trustee Salary:  $44,255 (does not include expenses)

ECSD Trustees made on average $21,578 more than EPSB Trustees in 2012 or 49% more

In 2012 ECSD trustees got paid 49% more than EPSB trustees for looking after 44% fewer schools (88 for ECSD, 199 for EPSB) with 43% fewer students.

CCSD:

Average Trustee Salary:  $38,670 (does not include expenses)

ECSD Trustees received $27,163 more per year than Calgary Catholic School trustees or 70% more

CCSD trustees serve 49,000 students in 105 schools.  So they make 70% less than ECSD and serve 30% more students and 16% more schools than ECSD.

I am dismayed at seeing these numbers because while ECSD trustees make these high salaries, I have met two families in the last 2 weeks who have transferred their special needs children from ECSD to EPSB because they were offered more supports in the EPSB.  I also met a special needs teacher while door knocking who said that indeed, there have been cut backs in supports for special needs children.  As a Catholic school district that claims to believe that each child is a precious gift and sacred responsibility, I ask where is the ECSD’s responsibility to support the most vulnerable children in our system?

Where are the district’s priorities if it is willing to pay trustees, principals and vice-principals to attend a 3 day “Leadership Academy” at Jasper Park Lodge but cuts back on supports to special needs children?  I believe that it is time for a change on our Board–It is time for fresh eyes, fresh hearts and fresh minds to take a new look at our district’s priorities in light of our faith and the values of the Gospel.

Let’s Crunch Some Numbers: My Opinion on ECSD’s Fiscal Challenges

Before I crunch some ECSD numbers I would like to introduce you to my financial side.  When I worked as the head of the Program and Retreat Department at Providence Renewal Centre, I increased our revenues 33.6% and decreased our expenses by 10% over my 5 years there.  

When I became a member of the Woodcroft Community League in 2005 we were near bankruptcy.  In 2006 when I began my 4 year term as President of the league, I turned our finances around to the point where we were able to build a $600,000 playground.  I learned from our Treasurer that we were never going to be able to afford a new playground if we continued to use our casino money to heat our hall and maintain it.  I therefore pursued the idea of getting a partner to share our hall, bringing in rental income which would offset the cost of keeping our hall open.  We ended up partnering with 3 groups:  the Woodcroft Playschool Association, Inland Cement (they use our roof as a station for their air quality testing instruments), and the Alberta St. George of England Society (ASGOES).  ASGOES has since left our hall to partner with the Edmonton Scottish Society. Through my connections with Edmonton’s Art’s Community I recommended our league partner with the Edmonton Musical Theatre which I had learned, were needing a new home. They accepted our invitation.  Having these 3 groups in our hall has not hindered our community’s use of it.  Because the community benefits from having these groups in our hall – preschool children from the neighbourhood attend the Woodcroft Playschool and older children attend the Edmonton Musical Theatre – it is a win – win for all groups. 

So all told, these groups bring in $3,700 per month in revenue which more than pays for the utilities and the maintenance of our hall.  We were then able to take our casino money and invest it until such time as we needed it for matching grants.  It took 4 years to save enough money for our playground but it was finally built in the summer of 2012.

Many people have asked me how I will deal with fiscal challenges our district is facing.  I believe in the concept of “Zero Based Budgeting”.  This means that we begin our budgeting from scratch looking at our top priorities.  This form of budgeting is the opposite of what is used currently which is to take each existing category and increase it with the cost of living.

So I think we can all agree that our top priority is the classroom – this is our raison d’etre as a school district.  With this form of budgeting we would look at all the money we need to provide an optimal learning environment for students.  This would include for example the teacher’s salary, heat, electricity, school supplies, and janitorial services.  I would also include that the classrooms would be budgeted based on the Alberta Education recommended size of classroom for each grade level.  When we have designated all the required money for the classroom, we go to our next priority and so on.  Using this form of budgeting, it may be that inservices and pizza lunches might not get any funding this year but we will know that our $400 million is at least going to what we have designated our top priorities.

Why vote for a school trustee? My kids are grown up/I don’t have kids

Here is an article that I recently had published in the Sept. 11, 2013 issue of the Edmonton Examiner:

As I have been door knocking lately, I have come across citizens who tell me that they are not going to vote for a school trustee because their children are grown up or they do not have children. They believe that for them, checking an X on this ballot is not relevant. Here is my argument for why this segment of the population ought to vote for a school trustee.
First of all I ask them if they own the house they are currently living in. If they say yes, I ask them if they believe the closure of a school in their neighbourhood will impact their property values. They usually say yes. I explain that school trustees make the decision whether schools remain open or not. Suddenly they understand why they need to know who is running for school trustee and what their policy is on school closures. I know for myself, I didn’t know what power a school trustee had until I joined my community of Woodcroft in an unsuccessful bid to save the Woodcroft Elementary School in 2008. It is because of this experience that I have chosen to run as a school trustee this election.
I then talk to these non-trustee voters about their future. School trustees decide the direction that education will take for the future and the qualities instilled in our children. The document Inspiring Education: A Dialogue with Albertans, 2010 talks about a major goal of Alberta’s education system is to produce “creative, innovative and ethical citizens”. So to those who think that voting for a school trustee is not relevant to them, I ask if they care that this vision is realized. Do they want the nurse, the doctor, the LPN who is attending them in their future nursing home to have these qualities? If so, perhaps they better vote for a candidate who is focused on realizing this vision!
Next I remind them that they are paying school taxes anyway so they may as well have a say in who gets to spend their tax dollars.
Finally, I broach them with less selfish reasons for why they should become educated about the candidates running in their ward. Do they not want to ensure that the best candidate gets elected for the sake of the children and families in their neighbourhood? Our children deserve smart, well informed, good people to lead our schools. Please, I say, contribute to making our schools the best they can be just because this is a good thing to do.
If we live in society, we are all connected in some way to one another. Whether you are young, old, have children or grandchildren or neither, it is important to be educated about who is running as school trustee for your ward. We live in a democratic society with the privilege to vote. Let’s do so and do it as well informed and caring citizens.

On the Use of Casino Funds for Catholic Education

As many of you have heard, the current Archbishop of Edmonton Richard Smith has advised our Catholic schools to stop using casino funds to purchase such things as Smart Boards and basketballs.  He believes that raising funds for schools in this way is immoral as it causes many social ills.  According to a 2003 study for the Alberta Gaming Research Institute (http://dspace.ucalgary.ca/bitstream/1880/1628/1/Gambling_and_crime.pdf) there is not enough evidence to conclude that gambling causes higher instances of crime however it does suggest the following:

“gambling and crime are connected in several ways, namely: (1) addicted gamblers commit crimes—many of the gambling related family disputes and suicides and over one-half the gambling-related frauds, where charges were laid, were precipitated by one person’s problem gambling behavior; (2) major gambling venues attract opportunistic criminals looking to exploit the scene via activities such as cheating at play, counterfeiting, money laundering, theft, and fraud, plus deal with “undesirables” who disrupt play through vandalism, fighting, and public intoxication; and (3) the existence of popular forms of illegal gambling such as Internet wagering, bookmaking and common gaming houses.”

As an example of the connection between gambling, crime, and social ills, on January 9, 2013 the Edmonton Journal published a story about a local woman Nicole Ann Lemire 49 who was sent to prison for 2 years for embezzling $200,000 from her employer Titan Construction in order to support her gambling addiction.   Another example is from a friend who recently confided that one of his parents had a gambling addiction which was not connected with a crime but which tore his family apart.

These are the social ills that the Archbishop is concerned our Catholic schools may be contributing to through casino fundraising.  I have to say, that as a parent I struggle with knowing that fundraising for my child’s educational needs could have negative social implications.  I also struggle with what I am teaching my children if I am involved in something that uses one person’s weakness for my own gain.

So where are we going to find $6 million in revenue if the ECSD Board of Trustees were to disallow money from casinos to be used for school purposes?  I know that my sons’ school depended heavily on casino funds for the recently installed wifi system that was required for the school to achieve Alberta Education’s goal of creating 21st Century Learners.

Personally, I think that if our schools require $6 million to offer our children a quality education, it should be coming from the provincial government.  Especially if the government is stating that one of it’s goals is to create 21st Century Learners but does not provide the funds to purchase the expensive technology to achieve this goal.  If however, the government is not willing to properly fund our schools, then it is left to parents to find additional funds  through fundraising.

It is important to note that our current ECSD Board of Trustees has not yet voted on this issue.  Our schools have depended on casino funds ($171 per student per year) for a long time to fund important equipment, projects and programs.  It would be difficult to take these funds away immediately without offering adequate fundraising alternatives. Parents, trustees, and the Catholic Archdiocese must work together to replace casino funds so that our schools do not suffer and at the same time provide our children with an example of how we are called as Christians to treat the vulnerable of our society. I believe that if we put our heads together we can find creative and ethical ways to replace casino fundraising.

Why Catholic Parents Send Their Children to Public Schools

I have had some interesting discussions with Catholic parents who send their children to public schools.  Some choose a public school because of convenience:  the school is nearby so their children can walk to school and come home for lunch.  Because their children are getting to know other children in the neighbourhood their play dates are nearby and they get a strong feeling of connection with their community.  These parents also value their children getting much needed exercise that is the envy of any parent who has to drive their child to a distant school.  These parents value living local, fostering community connections and being less vehicle dependent.  When I ask if they worry that their children are not having their Catholic faith nurtured at school, they say that they believe it is the home environment that matters the most in nurturing a child’s faith.

Other Catholic parents choose to send their child to a public school because of a special or well respected program not available in the Catholic system.  I am thinking here of the Victoria School of Performing Arts — I have spoken to Catholic parents who have their children on their wait list.   These parents are not concerned either about their children losing their faith because they believe that they are doing a good job of nurturing their child’s faith in their home and parish.

Others like myself and my husband chose to move one of our 3 children to a public school for social reasons.  It was a difficult  decision because ECSD is where we feel our children belong because we are strong, practicing Catholics.  We were confident though that his faith would not suffer because we are regular church attendees and always involved in one way or the other in our parish community.  We also actively practice our faith at home and continue his catechism instruction with the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Home Study program.  We know we made  the right decision for him because he is much happier at school and is also doing well academically.

Just as an aside, I would like to work with the Archdiocese of Edmonton to provide a support network for Catholic parents who have chosen a public school for their child. When I worked in Timmins, Ont. as a Pastoral Associate at Nativity of Our Lord parish, Catholic parents with children in the public system met once a month to go over their homework from the CCCB Home Study program. I would like to at least ensure that Catholic parents who have their children in public schools know that this program exists for them.

And then there are the public school children that come over to the Catholic system for one reason or the other.  I have spoken to many a public school supporter who thought they could not send their children to a Catholic school because they were mistakenly told they had to be Catholic to be accepted.  Once I helped clear up this misunderstanding, they were more than pleased with the result–they were grateful for the Catholic school that made them feel so welcome and helped their children grow as spiritual beings.   I feel blessed that I was able to steer them in a direction that was so life giving for them.

What I have learned in this adventure of parenthood is that parents do whatever it takes to help their children feel accepted, fulfilled and at peace.  I have also learned that God can show up any where in a child’s life — God cannot be put in a box or a school or a particular school system.  As a graduate of the public school system myself (my home town was too small to have a Catholic school) I know that my Catholic parents and upbringing had a lot to do with the career path I chose and the strength of my faith today.  I know too that when I began attending St. Michael’s College — the Catholic college at the University of Toronto — I was relieved to meet so many Catholic young people like myself actively practicing their faith and living their lives as true followers of Christ.  I felt stronger in my faith because of their friendship and support.

It is my hope that my children too will experience this kind of support of their faith in our Catholic schools.  It is one of the reasons why I am involved in my sons’ school on the Catholic Education Committee and why I am wanting to run as a Catholic School Trustee in the Fall of 2013.

21st Century Learners and Internet Safety

So your 9-year-old daughter has a school project to research organic pork farming but instead of typing a “k” your child types  an “n” and is exposed to some pretty graphic stuff you really wish she hadn’t seen!  How do parents protect their children from viewing this adult material?  I was always concerned about my children accidentally coming across graphic material but I became more concerned about this issue as my children purchased iPods that gave them–with the help of our wifi–unlimited access to all the good, bad and ugly of the internet. We have always had our computers located where we can keep an eye on things but with iPods it is harder to look over our children’s shoulders.  Some children also have unlimited access to the internet 24/7 because of the availability of iPhones.  So how can we protect our children in this new digital age?

One thing we can do is to add a filter to the  router in our homes.  Our internet provider David Peterson, owner and operator of Open Concept Internet Inc.  gave me the following websites to peruse:

http://protectfamily.org/
https://tech.lds.org/wiki/Internet_filtering_(Family_Safety)
http://www.opendns.com/home-solutions/parental-controls/

He installed the Open DNS service on our router giving my husband and I more peace of mind.

The only thing that we can’t filter out without banishing it completely, is uTube.  UTube does have a safety feature which you can click on at the bottom of the page to remove any racy content but it can easily be turned off by any user.

The ECSD’s focus is on 21st century learning and in doing so is encouraging schools to install wifi and allow students to bring in their technology.  The ECSD does have content filters but as my son’s principal told me recently they can’t filter everything out.  Just like me, they are unable to filter out all the questionable content from websites such as uTube without banning them completely.  The ECSD’s approach to this technology is that teachers and parents need to work together to instill in our children a moral strength of character to not access content that depicts women as objects and contributes to an industry that de-humanizes both women and men.  Together we need to teach our children that even though they can access this content at the touch of key, it is detrimental to their positive sense of self as children of God.  Just as we talk to our children about saying no to drugs, we need to have similar discussions with them about saying no to accessing morally questionable content on the internet.

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