School District #83 is facing criticism for paying administrative staff to attend a Las Vegas conference.
The school district, however, says the conference is a prominent educational event that benefits leadership in the district.
Concerns of school district employees were recently brought to the News’ attention regarding six administrative staff who attended an educational leadership conference Nov. 1-3 in Las Vegas.
A school district employee, who does not want to be identified for fear of disciplinary action, says there are concerns among employees about spending on this trip in an environment where money is said to be tighter than ever.
It its 2013/14 budget, the school board had to address a $1.8 million shortfall stemming from a projected $1.3 million decrease in revenue and $531,000 increased costs. Subsequently, 12 teaching positions were cut, supply budgets trimmed and storefront schools restructured in Sicamous, Salmon Arm, Enderby and Armstrong.
Responding to these concerns, school district superintendent Glenn Borthistle first explained that administrative staff (principals, vice-principals, etc.) put together a professional development or growth plan, and seek to attend events in accordance with that plan utilizing pro-development funding that is part of their contract.
“It’s part of their personal services contract that is contributed to by both the district and the individual through payroll deductions,” said Borthistle. “So, in other words, a piece of the employee’s salary is deducted and put into this fund.”
Borthistle notes the school district does not tell staff which conferences to attend, or when, as that’s subject to when conferences of interest are scheduled. However, he says that as educational leaders, principals and vice-principals are encouraged to attend professional development events in order to be current with best practice in the field.
“There are a number of different ways to do this, but this particular event is one of the leading events in North America,” said Borthistle, referring to the Las Vegas convention, organized by the ASCD (formerly the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development). “It’s of a particular size that only occurs in large places, which is one reason why only places like Las Vegas can host these things.”
Borthistle emphasized that pro-development funding is a contractual obligation, as opposed to being a part of operating funds.
“School boards make decisions about things they think are good investments in terms of making sure the education system is functioning as best as it can,” said Borthistle. “So, part of that, is making an investment in the leaders to make sure they’re current on educational practice.”
Salmon Arm Secondary Jackson campus principal Reid Findlay was one of the six to attend the Las Vegas conference. He said he chose to attend it because of its focus on school leadership and complexities of the 21st century.
“Our school district believes that technology can improve student learning, and many sessions at this conference allowed us to hear from and network with school leaders from around North America,” said Findlay. “In particular, I was interested to see how others have created a clear and engaging blended-learning program and overcome textbook fatigue, to use 21st century tools to revitalize teaching and learning.
“The aim of the conference was to provide us with immediately actionable techniques, which I consider very helpful with the BC Ministry of Education’s Transformation Agenda, which is why we are talking more and more at SAS about putting students at the centre of their learning.”