Inclusive Information

Ontario Coalition for Inclusive Education’s Networking for Inclusion project

Coalition for Inclusive Education: Guide for the 2004 School Year

Welcome back to the school year – I can hear some people groaning already, and it’s not just the students!
You are being sent this message from the Ontario Coalition for Inclusive Education’s Networking for Inclusion project.
Perhaps there are others on your SEAC or in your groups who should be added to our address list.
Common information might help us support one another better, as long as we agree on the goal of improving inclusive education.

Please find attached a revised SEAC Calendar (changes were made since the Minister of Education’s summer announcements). PAAC on SEAC has suggested a month-by-month sequence of issues which SEACs should address. We hope this helps to establish SEAC agendas, requests for data, etc. proactively throughout the year – according to the mandated responsibilities you have.

Also, I am sending something else PAAC wrote that might help explain (and possibly defend) your role – the Value of SEAC. We hope this accords you the credit you are due, for the contributions you make to your school boards and communities.

I will soon have ready a Back-to-School Bulletin to be distributed to families, agencies, etc. We think there is some reason to hope for a better school year, since the Education Minister’s announcements to stop the harms of the ISA special education funding formula, to address the fact that millions of dollars of special education money has not been spent, and to propose changes to improve educational outcomes for exceptional students.

In the meantime, I am asking for your help to further our research into the problems surfacing concerning special education funding – which relate to the 2 attached files named MOE and ISA.
Rumours, media reports and messages are flying about.
We hear that the changes are coming straight from the Education Minister himself, and his political staff. Gerard Kennedy has taken unprecedented steps to track down special education problems. That he has taken such major action, after much earlier delay, tells me that he sees the problems are very serious – both concerning the harm done to students by the ISA funding formula (as the Coalition has documented for years) and the fact that more than half of Ontario school boards are said to have NOT spent more than $100 million of the money granted for special education, during times when we know many students have suffered lack of support, and many SEACs have been asked to make difficult decisions.
It is also interesting that the Assistant Deputy Minister responsible for Finance – all of this – is Kevin Kobus, former Director of Simcoe Muskoka Catholic School Board – a man who would certainly know what’s involved in school board operations and finances.

So I have been trying to think of some questions to be logical about this, with the little bits of information I have received. Please see what you think.
Your help is much appreciated:

* There is a chart on page 4 of the attached July 28 MOE document that shows increases in ISA funding to each school board throughout the past school year. But changes may have been made to these amounts in August – you should find out what your board’s final ISA amounts and numbers are – and also ask for a breakdown by exceptionality “Profile” and a comparison over the past several years of all these numbers and dollars. Increases have been huge – even after all the years ISA has been with us. Numbers of kids now called severely disabled has almost doubled in the last 2 years. EIght boards say these students make up 4.5% of their total poluation. The provincial prevalence has gone up from a median of 1-1.5% to 2.5-3% in this short time.

* As far as I can tell, boards get to keep all of this 2003-04 ISA increase – and carry it forward into this school year, if it was not spent before.

* But for the 2004-05 school year, is your board going to have a special ed funding “clawback”? (The “clawback” will just be deducted from other money the Ministry gives those school boards. They don’t have to actually pay it back)

* The Ministry calls this – not a clawback – but “Calculated Underspending” – an interesting double meaning, it would seem. This makes it seem that Boards plotted to keep money away from students! But it actually it means there is a mathematical formula.

* If you know the amount of the clawback, you can use algebra to roughly find out what your board’s special ed surplus might have been this year and last (this is important info for your SEAC, and may reveal how well you really should trust the information you have been given in past years – and how to get on an honest footing for the year ahead) These figures are only approximate – based on the draft ISA figures from July, etc.

o 2002-03 surplus = Clawback + 4% of your 2002-03 Starting ISA allocation (Column 1 on the MOE document chart)

o 2003-04 surplus = Clawback + 2% of your Total Allocation as of the 2003-04 ISA Review (Column 5 on the same chart)

* What reasons does your Board give for accumulating any special ed reserves – i.e. for NOT spending the grants they received to assist students?
* I am hearing that money came too late in 2002-03 to be spent… but then why was it not spent – happily – in 2003-04? Did SEAC know about this either year?
* In fact, the 2002-03 increase in ISA was announced following the Rozanski Commission in December 2002 – perhaps dollars were not actually received then but it was a certainty that they would come later

* If some boards have NO surpluses accumulated at all, then what did they do differently? How come some could spend the money and others could not?

* Please let me know if your Board did NOT have a clawback. Using the formula above, you can calculate that the ministry allows boards to keep a proportion of their ISA allocations.

* It is a strange thing that the Ministry figures out how much reserve money can be kept by using a formula related to the ISA allocation. It makes me wonder how the 2 pieces of info are really related…

* Some boards say they don’t actually have dollars socked away in a bank account to relinquish – that surpluses are somehow only “on paper?” – a chimera related to particular accounting periods and particularities. But then I wonder how Gerard Kennedy can be so sure this is not the case – so sure that he would take such a big political risk to expose this problem, and take action. The Ministry August 4th ISA document attached shows quite a bit of detail, about the problem too. We have to also realize that it has only been since 2001-02 that special ed surpluses were allowed at all – prior to then, the year-ends all worked out and the money was shown as spent – so why are there impossible accounting obstacles now?

* I have read a news report that Waterloo District school board (not Catholic) has angered Minister Kennedy with its actions. When they found out July 28th that they would experience a clawback of about $5 million, they quickly spent it all. So that means it really was money, and wasn’t just a paper peculiarity (see above). Apparently they spent it on equipment – 10 times their usual budget – and I wonder why they could not have gotten ISA #1 funding for some of that anyway? (remember that ISA #1 funding no longer requires invoices to be submitted to the Ministry – but the Ministry has said classroom visits might be made to see equipment in use)

* It does concern me that any surpluses spent quickly by Boards over the summer happened without any info to or guidance from SEAC – you will need to find out about that now. (It also concerns me that it might have been especially easy to spend money fast on segregated classroom furniture, appliances, etc – Build it and they will come… A perceptive Coalition member noted that Waterloo District even bought some kind of surveillance cameras for recording student behaviour) Did your Board spend a lot during August?

* What the Ministry planned was to put all the surplus money into a provincial Effectiveness and Equity Fund – which school boards could ask to access to compensate for the clawbacks. However, they would have to explain to the Ministry how planned expenditures of that money would actually help kids. Of course money in this Fund could be spent on staffing and professional development all year – not just hastily-purchased equipment.

* The Ontario Public School Boards Association (OPSBA) has just put out a memo objecting to the Minister’s actions. This is the organization of District (public) school trustees – some of whom sit with you on SEACs. I am curious whether the Catholic trustees are taking any action. Last April, just the District board Directors (not Catholic and not French) belonging to CODE wrote the Minister defending ISA, even saying they had SEAC support for continuing it.

* there will be no ISA documentation required this year – at all. Your SEAC will want to know how board resource people are being re-allocated, now that consultants will be available to assist with programming (not just ISA documentation)

* However, boards can still access Special Incidence Portion (SIP) funding. I am concerned there could be a special financial motivation to document behavioural difficulties, and say that 2 or more staff are required for some students (rather than try other supports). This could be a ‘growth industry”

* It is IEP Season – most need to be completed by October 20th (or 30 school days after the start of “placement”). Boards should review their results from the province’s IEP Standards Review (each board was considered once between 2001 and 2003).An IEP improvement plan might be needed.

* A major shift might be needed in thinking, to lose the negativity and non-academic focus we have seen in IEPs, ever since ISA created a financial motivation. ISA indirectly promoted segregation too.

* The Coalition would be pleased to talk to you about training events or meetings in your communities, to improve IEPs right away. We have some practical ways to “focus on students’ strengths and to aim higher for their future”. The Ministry reported that IEPs across Ontario needed to involve classroom teachers, connect individual objectives with the provincial curriculum, and communicate better with parents.

* The Minister says he intends to check whether school boards meet their academic objectives. But who gets to determine whether those objectives are set high enough for individual students and for the school board as a whole? Will the proposed provincial Effectiveness and Efficiency Office do any better than the Ministry staff have been so far at resolving problems? The Minister hinted that Boards might be required to report on “the availabilty of early assessment, academic achievement, IEP evaluation, parent satisfaction, reducued classroom incidents and suspensions”. Your SEAC might want to start such documentation now, or at least consider how such things should be measured.

I know this is all very complicated but also extremely important to us all.

It is not SEAC’s role to get embroiled in school board-Ministry politics.
The amount of money a board receives from the Ministry should not be the concern of SEAC reps. – your advice pertains to making sure that it is utilized well and to having input as to how it is utilized.

We also know that effective inclusion is a better use of available funds. There are many ways to provide support for students to learn together – better.

However, it appears that there is more special ed money from the province than ever, available to school boards. It needs to be spent, not “reserved”. Students must not be denied support.

And the Minister is extremely interested in seeing that this money truly helps students.

Our provincial organizations are interested in the big picture. And we have other opportunities for advocacy provincially. The Ontario Coalition for Inclusive Education hopes to contribute to some constructive changes.

I hope this helps you to make sense of the information you will be receiving as school begins.

I need to hear from you, especially if my interpretation of events seems faulty or limited, compared to what you are hearing. Please let me know what you find out, at this rather confusing time.

Thanks – and I hope the school year is beginning well for the students you know.

Marilyn Dolmage
Project Co-ordinator