Boardroom Briefs

January 15, 2020 Meeting of LDSB Board of Trustees

Boardroom Briefs is intended to provide highlights of presentations, reports and decisions made at the regular meeting of the Limestone District School Board of Trustees. These briefs do not serve as the official record of the meeting. Please refer to Board minutes which are approved at the next regular meeting. Community members are also invited to follow along during live tweets of regular Board meetings using the hashtag #LDSBmtg.

Private Session Update

Trustee Laurie French provided a public report of topics discussed in private session which took place before the public session. Trustee French shared that private session included labour and property updates in addition to information received from external legal counsel.

External legal counsel presented the following information:

1. Trustees were presented with legal risks which may exist where statements are made about staff or others based on unproven allegations prior to any proper and fulsome investigation of such allegations. In particular, Trustees were advised as follows:

a. Such statements, based on unproven allegations, can be construed as an “admission” of fault or liability by the Trustee, on behalf of the Board as a whole, and such admissions could attract financial or other liability for the Board and/or its Trustees and staff; AND

b. Such unproven allegations, once distributed, could be construed as slander, libel and/or defamation, by the person who is the object of the unproven allegations, where the statements are found to be untrue.

2. All policies, including the Code of Conduct, are in place to establish processes for how various matters should be dealt with. Such policies are for the protection of Trustees and the Board. Such policies must be followed. The Code of Conduct which is in compliance with Ministry standards, lays out a process for a trustee to respond to censure decisions. In this case, as well as in the case of the former Trustee, neither censured Trustee responded to the censure decision despite that there was a process to do so. As a result, this matter should not be revisited.

Chair Report

Chair Suzanne Ruttan began her report outlining the Board's work over remainder of school year including its responsibility and challenge to maintain and improve public education across our district in our important role as governors of the Board.

She indicated that members of the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario and the Ontario Secondary Schools Teachers' Federation are currently in contract negotiations with the provincial government and the Ontario Public School Boards' Association. Unions have been taking part in selected withdrawal of services without any disruption to student learning at this time. She said that the Board remains hopeful an agreement can be reached soon at the central bargaining table between the province, unions and OPSBA which represents public school boards at the provincial table.

She highlighted that next week is OPSBA's Public Education Symposium which offers sessions on topics directly affecting the role of trustee and the broader environment within which school boards operate. She said she was confident that Trustees would find it valuable learning.

Director's Report

Director of Education Debra Rantz began her report by wishing secondary students luck as they prepare for upcoming exams which begin next week.

Consultation has begun with co-terminous school boards and employee representatives on next year’s School Calendar. Labour Day is later in 2020 which poses unique challenges. Families will have the chance to provide feedback through online surveys coming soon.

Registration for Kindergarten in Limestone begins shortly. Online registration will open at the end of this month.

The Director highlighted two significant achievements of students and staff late in 2019. First, she offered congratulations to Elginburg & District Public School's Choir for its top-10 finish in the 2019 Canadian Music Class Challenge. Watch their performance. She also congratulated educational assistant Kelly Hawley on being named one of seven recipients of the City of Kingston's 2019 Celebrating Accessibility Award, recognizing her exceptional work with students.

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Presentation: After School Skills Development Program

    Trustees received a presentation on LImestone's After School Skills Development Program (ASSDP) with Associate Superintendent Alison McDonnell and Program Coordinator Melissa Boyd-Rupa.

    The Ministry of Education invited school boards to submit applications to support ASSDPs to help enhance skills of students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Limestone was one of 22 school boards who received this unique funding. ASSDPs demonstrated measurable benefits for students with ASD in the areas of social skills, communication, self-regulation and life-planning. These are areas which help students to succeed both in the classroom and beyond.

      The focus is on skills that will benefit students with ASD (e.g. social, communication, self-regulation, etc.) to help them succeed in school. Skills are to be taught using the principles of Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA). ASSDPs are implemented outside of the regular instructional day (e.g. before & after school and/or during lunch breaks). There is ongoing communication with parents/caregivers and other community service providers to promote generalization and maintenance of the skills being taught.

      Results show that 89% of participating students have showed an increase in 1 or more skill area. 48% showed increase in 1 to 2 areas; 38% in 3 to 4 areas and 11% in 5 or more areas.

      OPSBA Report

      Trustee Laurie French provided a brief update from the Ontario Public School Boards' Association November meeting which was condensed to prepare for the Advocacy Day. The meeting included updates on consultation on Grants for Students Needs (GSNs), Autism Program Advisory Report; governance review of OPSBA. The Advocacy Day included more than 60 MPPs and information from OPSBA's recent Nanos survey regarding school board governance.

      Student Trustee Report

      Student Trustees Annika Putnam and Jessica Crook provided the following report.

      During recent InterSchool Council meeting in December, members discussed how other school boards run their elections for Indigenous Student Trustees. Consensus was that election process should be similar to that of our existing Urban and Rural Student Trustees in Limestone. The goal is to ensure we have a strong leader to represent the Indigenous students across Limestone.

      The December InterSchool Council meeting also included discussion among members to brainstorm ideas for event to promote socializing among students in all secondary schools. There are many great ideas and we plan to make a decision prior to our next meeting in February.

      In early January, Trustee Crook held her first Advocacy Working Group meeting for the Ontario Student Trustees' Association where they brainstormed some ideas for the Individualized Education Plan handbook as well as creating a timeline and assigning jobs. They are hoping to have a rough draft soon. Another initiative OSTA is looking at is reporting on days of importance to advocate for groups of marginalized students in Ontario. They feel it is Important to do smaller projects that advocate for students so everyone's voices are heard.

      Finally, Trustee Putnam is changing schools in semester two from Granite Ridge Education Centre to Sydenham High School but remains as rural trustee.

      Report for Information: Student Identity Project Update

        Superintendent of Education Michele Babcock provided an update on an earlier report about the Board's student identity-based data collection project. The intent of the census is to meet expectations identified in the Ontario Education Equity Action Plan to identify and eliminate discriminatory practices and systemic barriers and bias in schools and classrooms.

        The Board has since retained a vendor to assist with data collection as well as conducted series of information sharing sessions with student focus groups, committees and families. Work continues on survey development before survey administration.

        Trustee Joy Morning asked why the Board had to seek a vendor for project. Superintendent Babcock responded that the Board has a research department of one person so there is limited capability to complete this scope of work which requires a robust tool with logic and data analysis.

        The census is scheduled to take place in April 2020.

        Report for Information: Director's Annual Report

          Director of Education Debra Rantz presented on 2018-2019 Director’s Annual Report that includes information on strategic goals and progress.

          The report also highlights progress implementing Board Improvement Plan goals for improving fundamental math skills, promoting student pathways planning and supports and in creating equitable schools and classrooms.

          Read the report online.

          Reports Requiring Decision: 10-Year Capital and School Renewal Project

            Superintendent of Business Craig Young reported on the Board's Multi‐Year Capital and School Renewal Project Plan for the current school year 2019-2020.

            Starting in 2011‐2012, the Board prepared a 10‐Year Capital ‐ School Renewal Project Plan that is updated each year and includes proposed activities under specific project types such as heating/mechanical, security, building envelope and accessibility upgrades and retrofits.

            In June 2019, the Board approved a budget including $19.2M in capital expenditures. The 10‐year school plan is based upon building condition reports, analysis from maintenance work orders; knowledge from facilities trades and maintenance staff and expertise from engineering and other consultants.

            A full outline of where the money would be spent for 2019-2020 including a listing of schools and assigned projects is available in the Board package on pages 53-63.

              Trustee Bob Godkin asked if funding is adequate. Staff responded that while we can only spend what we receive from the Ministry of Education, the Board does have a backlog of work. The Board also has contingency funds in place for emergencies as situations change. Trustee Laurie French asked if here might be further detail Boards can provide to government regarding the Grants for Student Needs and associated funding such as school condition allocation. Staff responded that the Board will indeed advocate for more funding to address backlogs wherever possible. Trustee Joy Morning asked about specific funding for accessibility. Staff responded that money is no longer dedicated to accessibility. Boards are expected to use the existing money from school condition funding.

              Trustees approved the 10-Year Capital Plan.

              Notice of Motion re Municipal Election Spending

                Trustee Karen McGregor provided a preamble to her Notice of Motion provided at the December Board Meeting.

                Here is a shortened version of her statement: The Municipal Elections Act requires that all candidate finances must be reported by March 29, 2019, which is five months after the October 22, 2018 election. During this period, there is an assumption that municipalities review reports to ensure compliance, and that any funders for candidate expenses have been declared as conflict of interest if their names/organizations come forward to the Board for any reason.

                  Trustee McGregor asserted that this assumption is problematic as five months of business of the Board has already been conducted by the time the deadline for finances occurs. She said that the Board is put in a vulnerable position if irregularities are reported. Also, she said the Board is unaware of campaign contributors and are unable to determine if there was a conflict of interest by any Trustees.

                  Trustee McGregor said that Trustees Garrett Elliott and Bob Godkin regularly declare conflicts at the beginning of each meeting. She said that Trustee Robin Hutcheon has not yet declared a conflict as is required on annual basis. She would like to know status of this.

                  The motion on the floor is: That the Board, after each municipal election, request from municipalities audits related to each Trustee candidate, and that these results be shared with the Board of Trustees before the expiration of the appeal date.

                  Trustee Godkin raised point of order regarding the motion. He said the Municipal Elections Act falls out of scope of the Board of Trustees. He acknowledged he made an error on his financial statements but has since corrected that.

                  Trustee Hutcheon said the Board is supposed to have a compliance audit to deal with these exact issues. She asked if the Board has one. Superintendent of Business Craig Young stated that Boards enter into agreements with municipalities to do this work. He further indicated he would need to review and report back.

                  Trustee Elliott said he agrees that if there is already a committee then we should take advantage of what already exists. Trustee Joy Morning said she thinks we are asking municipality to do the work the candidate is supposed to do.

                  Trustee Laurie French said this Board has already been called on issues of transparency. She stated that this isn't about the larger process but that the motion is asking for audits that all candidates completed to be collected and submitted to the Board. She said she believes this would provide transparency. Student Trustee Annika Putnam agreed, saying that she believes what is being asked is simply an extra step on the candidates' end to see if any steps were missed and to promote transparency.

                  Trustee Godkin said he is not opposed to transparency or the Board having all Trustees voluntarily submit financials from elections. He is opposed to one level of government asking another to comply.

                  Trustee French reinforced this is not extra ask of municipalities and suggested an amendment: That Board after each election request elected trustees submit audited financial statements and they be shared with Board before appeal expiration date. She then moved to remove the word audited but added that asking for financial statements will show who received money and where potential conflict of interests may exist.

                  The amended motion was passed unanimously.

                  Internal Reports & Other Communications

                    Under Internal Reports and Other Communication, Trustees received Letter of Censure to Trustee Robin Hutcheon (October 2019) and Letter of Apology from Trustee Hutcheon (November 2019). Chair Ruttan indicated that the apology concludes the consequences imposed against Trustee Hutcheon.

                    External Reports & Other Communications

                      Chair Suzanne Ruttan indicated that the Board has received a series of letters, some of which call for review of Board of Trustees, while others are in support of work of the Board. Chair Ruttan said that many letters contain several inaccuracies, related to some matters that occurred before the current Trustees’ term. She read a statement to correct and clarify the misleading information and provide the facts. A transcript is provided below.

                      Transcript of Chair Statement re External Reports & Other Communications.

                      While several of the letters referenced past Board decisions that will not be revisited, Chair Ruttan specifically referenced the censure of Trustee Robin Hutcheon. Chair Ruttan asked Trustee Hutcheon if she accepted her censure and was ready to move on. Trustee Hutcheon indicated that this was the case.

                      Chair Ruttan recommended no further action on these letters or subsequent letters dealing with the same issues. She said that "given the current political landscape and the very serious challenges facing public education today, I am pleased we have agreed to move forward in a positive, productive and collaborative way. Trustees serve large constituencies, and fulfilling the representational role is challenging. Although a Trustee must serve their community as an elected representative, their primary task is to act as a member of a corporate board, and to be accountable for the collective decisions of the Board and the delivery and quality of educational services."

                        Trustee Godkin called for a point of order saying the vote to censure Trustee Hutcheon (from October 2019) was not unanimous. Trustee Joy Morning clarified she voted for consequences for Trustee Hutcheon but not the censure. Trustee Laurie French called point of order saying that the committee vote was not unanimous but that the vote at the Board was. Due to Board policy of using a consent agenda, if meeting minutes from committee are not pulled out for discussion by a trustee, they are unanimously accepted as are motions therein.

                        Trustee Morning said she thinks there were lots of errors in letters but that the Board should proceed with a governance review to restore confidence in Board of Trustees. She presented motion.

                          Trustee Bob Godkin said a review would not be of operations or staff but of Trustee governance procedures. He said the Board Trustee Code of Conduct follows "letter of law" but not the spirit of law.

                          Trustee Karen McGregor said she doesn't believe an independent review is necessary. She indicated that the Board does follow policies "to the letter" and she wants to move past this and focus on improving things for students. Student Trustee Annika Putnam agreed with Trustee McGregor. She did not feel Board needs to prove it is doing things correctly when all evidence shows it is.

                          Trustees Garrett Elliott and Laurie French sought clarification on what an independent review would look like and what the costs would be.

                          Trustee Morning amended the motion to say all further trustee censures be investigated by independent integrity commissioner. Trustee Tom Gingrich put forth a deferral of the motion until an investigation of costs could be researched by staff. Student Trustees Putnam and Jessica Crook, Trustee McGregor said they did not need a report as they don't believe a review is needed.

                          The motion for a staff report was passed. Trustees Elliott, Godkin, Gingrich, Hutcheon, Morning voted in favour.

                          Limestone District School Board

                          The Board serves more than 19,000 elementary and secondary students in 60 schools and 8 education centres covering a geographic area of 7,719 square kilometres. To get in touch with your trustee, visit Meet Your Trustees.