- What is the most important issue facing the Board of Education, and how would you propose to deal with it?
It is all about money. Every issue that we are currently facing is due to the systemic issue that the provincial and federal government are not providing enough money. As residents of Langley Township, we pay a lot of monies in taxes and the government is not allocating these funds properly and the students are the ones that are taking the brunt of these budget cuts.
My platform is devoted almost entirely to issues that are being caused by budget cuts. Specifically in the following areas:
– Budget cuts that increased class sizes and class composition
- Closures of schools, and not enough capacity being built in new areas of development
- Decrease in support roles that affect class composition
- Inadequate funding for special needs children which affects the learning outcomes of typical children.
- Condemned playgrounds
- Technology not being implemented in schools and parents are having to subsidize the costs
- All fundraising that PAC’s have to do for basic school items such as sports equipment, computers, teacher resources in the classrooms, books in libraries, and other basis learning tools.
2. Should the school district sell surplus school sites to help fund capital projects in Willoughby?
The issues facing the Willoughby Slope and the lack of schools and other various issues need to be addressed by the school district. A review of the long term facilities plan is in the works at the moment and the school board will be looking at current assets, and selling off surplus lands in order to accommodate the students in the Willoughby area. The Ministry has advised the Langley School District that in order for any new schools to be built the district must come back to the Ministry with 50 per cent of the capital asset costs, so the Langley District has really no choice but to sell current land to meet those requirements.
The sale of those properties will likely affect future new builds as our population grows due to organic growth, and due to immigration and new people moving into the Fraser Valley, this problem is just being Band-Aided at the moment, because there will be no land to use to build new schools when that need arises again. The costs to purchase new land at that time will likely 1) be double in costs, and 2) those properties will likely not exist as it is so costly to find any land in the Lower Mainland to build and develop. The problem will only be worse and will affect the children of our future.
I believe that a campus of schooling needs to be planned for in the overall development plans, which would include Strong Start programs, Pre-School and other resources for parents to capitalize on in the overall development plan. It is also the responsibility of the school board to ensure that the funds that developers are putting towards schools being built actually go towards schools being built.
As the plans for current development continue to proceed and new housing is approved it is imperative that the councillors and school trustees have the developers take responsibility and accountability and include the building of more schools to be part of their development plans – and be paid for by the developers, to be built at no cost to the Township. These developers make hundreds of thousands of dollars in profit and they need to put some of those profits back into the communities they build and not walk away after creating parking issues, schools over capacity, and various other issues. Their development plans should also include the building of community centres, sports complexes and cultural art centers.
The Township must take accountability for the growth rate in Langley and must be lobbying our provincial and federal governments for more funding to build new schools. There was an article in the Now Newspaper last week demonstrating how the City of Surrey is doing just that. I am cutting and pasting the article link below.
The Surrey School Board and the school trustees are writing letters and appealing to the government for help and that is exactly what Langley needs to be doing. We are in a state of crisis with over-crowding and lack of funding and resources for children. Teachers and parents cannot be expected to take on the added expenses, in addition, there are increased requests for school volunteers to make up for this broken system caused by reduction in budgets and slashes in resource funding.
More schools need to be approved to be built immediately with the anticipation of the increasing numbers of people moving into the Langley area and should be looked at immediately before the current disaster gets even worse.
3. Is there enough timely communication between the board and the two local governments regarding development and its impact on school population?
My answer to this question is a resounding no. There is a disconnect in what the school board needs in terms of funding, and resources to adequately meet the needs of the current school population. This starts at the grassroots level when it comes to the basic buildings that are required to house these students, to the supplies needed in classrooms, from basic pens and paper to high tech capital equipment to fundamental infrastructures such as playgrounds and gym equipment. The parents of children who go to these schools are being asked to pay for these basic needs that the government should be paying for. Parents are not only being asked to pay for schools in their taxes, but from their own pockets. Parents are being asked for more every day. Being a mother to five children in elementary school, there is a rarely a day that I do not get a notice asking for monies or an email from the PAC asking me to provide fundraising or my time volunteering so that basic needs are being supplied due to the fact that the school district is not covering these costs.
4. What is the best way to deal with class size and composition issues, so that all students get the maximum attention from teachers?
The school board must lobby to the provincial government for monies to hire more teachers to decrease class sizes and for funds to change class composition by hiring various staff to create added resources and provide support to both teachers and students.
The greatest issue that is affecting class sizes and composition is due primarily to the reduction in psychologists being hired in the district. This creates a systemic affect that affects both special needs and typical children. Due to the reduction in psychologists being hired, there is a reduction in number of assessments that can be done which then leaves many children in the dark being no waiting lists for assessments.
My children waited for three years on a waiting list, and then when it was our turn we were told that there were other children that were identified as worse than our kids and that we would not be getting an assessment. This resulted in us having to pay for the tests privately and by doing so we were able to go back to the district and receive extra special needs education hours and other therapies after we were able to show our private report and diagnosis.
I am at a loss for all those other parents who do not have the funds to pay for private testing and are on these waiting lists. This in turn means that these identified students who are on waiting lists for assessments are being left for the time being undiagnosed and are disruptive to the class, to the teacher and more importantly they as individuals are not getting their needs met and that must be a very scary place to be for a child.
The other students suffer because the teacher has to focus on the identified student and has no extra Special Education Assistant to provide the added help needed. I know of one teacher who has 12 children with Individual Education Plans in her class. How can a teacher realistically meet the needs of all of her students when there is such a demand for her attention by all students, and there is just one of her?
Class size is therefore impacted. If you have over 30 students in a class, all with varying needs then how can a teacher be able to meet all of the children’s needs?
In the past, teachers could rely on other resources for help, which impacted their class composition, but that again no longer exists. Budgets have been cut in all of the following areas which mean that students, teachers and parents are not able to access these valuable resources.
- Resource Teachers: These resource teachers have such huge caseloads, that they cannot get to each child on a weekly basis.
- Special Education Assistants that are being funded by identified children with diagnosis are being used to help other children without diagnosis. Therefore both the diagnosed and the undiagnosed child suffer and do not even receive the funding that has been allocated towards the typical needs child.
- School Psychologists: are covering multiple schools in the district and can only get to a school a couple of times per month. We had to wait for over a month to have our private diagnosis read by a school psychologist.
- OT/PT cover multiple schools and identified students will usually get an assessment but it takes many months for this to occur and in my experience little to no follow up after the initial assessment. We have had to take our special needs children to therapists under our extended health plan as the school’s allocation of OT/PT hours did not meet the needs of our children.
- Speech Pathologists: Our children initially had to wait over 6 months to a year for an assessment and then were assigned only one or two blocks for the entire year. The literature stated as part of their diagnosis that speech therapy once per day for an hour is the minimum required in order to bring them to a level that they would improve their speech. Our children get half an hour a week. The issue is that the first block is used to assess and then on the second block many months later the therapy began and out of the 30 minutes they have to settle down do some work, and then they write a 5 minute recap on the work they did. There is very little speech therapy actually being done. We were forced to have to hire speech pathologists on a daily basis at our own cost. These costs should be covered by the school system and they are not adequately meeting the needs of students.
- School Counsellors: There is a shortage of school counsellors and we were told that there was only one counsellor that covered the district. When we asked to utilize these services to discuss some issues that we as parents were facing with the school and we wanted to have a counsellor present at our discussions we were told that we could not access the resource because it was for the kids. I thought that this was ironic, because our kids do not speak as they are special needs and non-verbal, and we are their voice but we were not allowed to have access to the school counsellor in our district. We as parents had to again hire a private counsellor to come to our meetings with the school board and the principal.
- Librarians: during our PAC meetings we regularly ask for volunteers to come in to our library to go through books, to administrative work and to provide funds for books and get involved in our scholastic fundraisers so that we have books for our library and that parents without parents we would not have these resources.
- Gym Teachers and Music Teachers: most schools either have one music teacher or one gym teacher or none. As part of our school system I feel that this is such a poor decision. Children need to be encouraged to be active and to excel at sports. Many parents to not have the funds to sign up their kids for extra-curricular activities and gym are the only form of exercise or opportunity to participate in these necessary activities. Children should also be encouraged to sing and dance and this is also an area where budget cuts have resulted in children not learning to play instruments or develop their artistic expression.
I attended the school board meeting Tuesday and my point and rational were exemplified by the current funding model. Currently there are 857 children in the Langley School District with Special Needs. A total of $17.4 million is being allocated to their direct needs i.e.) SEA funding and that represents approximately 11.7 percent of the total school district budget. That is not a bad number. The issue is that funding is allocated only once a child is diagnosed as a Level 1, Level 2 or Level 3 Special Needs child and the funding is then allocated to the child.
$36,600 per child
$18,300 per child
$ 9,200 per child
What this means is that if the Langley District doesn’t hire more psychologists to do assessments then the funding cannot increase. I heard that the Special Education Fund is being used to hire more Resource Teachers, School Counsellors and SEA`s but that only helps currently identified special needs children. It clearly does not help the children who are currently lost in the system who are waiting for diagnoses. What that means is that teachers have to share their current SEA hours that should be allocated to children who have been identified with a diagnosis, and instead are being used to help those children who are no diagnosed. So this is the systemic issue that I describe above, if we don`t get more psychologists assessing kids then there will be no more monies coming from the district and the issue continues and children are really not being helped even with the extra super-fund that was put in place.
In conclusion, if we are to see changes in class size and class composition, the bottom line is that more teachers need to be hired to decrease class sizes and the resources itemized above need to be staffed appropriately in order to support the needs of teachers, children and their parents in order to change class composition. But the most important thing we can do to increase funding and resources to both special needs children and typical needs children is to identify children who need help earlier than either not at all or putting kids on three-year waiting lists.