On Friday April 8th at around noon, QEA PAC Exec received a “final copy” of the public survey to be issued by VSB on Monday April 11th regarding the closure of our school. We had requested in March from VSB and their communications consultant, Jessica Delaney, that we have the chance to provide feedback on any public survey material to help ensure it provides multiple perspectives and genuinely seeks public input on the critical issue of school closures. To our great disappointment, not only were we not provided an opportunity for input, the survey itself meets our worst expectations for bias and problematic leading questions. Here is our response to Jessica Delaney, Deputy-Superintendent Nelson and Trustees:
Dear Jessica (and Deputy-Superintendent Nelson and Trustees)
Thank you for sending the draft survey questions. In keeping with the pattern of past interactions with the VSB, we do note that this has been sent to us on a Friday for action by Monday. This pattern needs to be changed as it makes it virtually impossible for people to respond effectively (although that is also perhaps part of the rationale for this repeated pattern). We would also like to address that during our initial meeting with you on March 8, 2022 we addressed and agreed upon the necessity for QEA PAC to have an opportunity for input as to the framework of the survey. Please refer to your attached transcribed notes sent to us following the meeting addressing this concern with the relevant section copied here.
On the survey, the question design is also quite key. I think we’ve all seen how the use of questions and answer design, the results can be steered a particular way and give a particular impression.
The PAC has identified several very serious problems with the draft survey. On our first, rapid reading (again on a Friday, before it is to be sent out on a Monday) we have identified the following concerns that we would like to be addressed prior to the survey being distributed:
- In the preamble to the survey it is mentioned that enrolment has been and will continue to decline in Vancouver. This is important, and inaccurate, information that sets the stage for the entire survey. Your characterization of the general enrolment pattern (which is not fleshed out with any numbers) is deeply problematic and untrue according to the BC Ministry of Education’s own data. It may be convenient to provide the information you have mentioned, but it is also inaccurate. Please revise the enrollment data for Vancouver with the numbers from the Ministry of Education’s projections, which show increases in enrollment over the coming years. The table linked here from the Ministry provides enrolment projections for the district in very simple and clear terms. Please note that it projects growth on the order of 2-2.5% per year for the Vancouver School District through 2030. Your preamble currently mentions there have been enrolment declines and then states that these will continue. Half of this statement, regarding the past (up to 2018), is true and the other, more important, half regarding the future is false according to the Ministry of Education. If the VSB’s data contradicts the Ministry’s data, then both should be provided and an explanation given for the discrepancy. However, we would highlight that for QEA specifically, the VSB’s own enrolment projections show no decline to 2030 (please see link here). You must revise the preamble to the survey to show that the Ministry of Education shows strong enrolment increases and that there is no projected decline in QEA enrolment by the VSB to 2030. We cannot overstate the importance of this change!
The survey and preamble reduce the issue to being about closing QEA, and doesn’t ask for general views about what due diligence the VSB should do before closing any school and disposing of its land. Closing the QEA school site ensures responsible use of resources to benefit all students is misleading because many people would argue that selling a school site without planning for the long term of the future ensures irresponsible use of resources to the cost of all future students. You should include a survey question about what due diligence is needed by the VSB before closing a school and selling land. You should have an open question that allows participants to elaborate on their answer.
- Another important element of the survey preamble is the number provided on per-student educational costs. We have already submitted a Freedom of Information request to the VSB to get the data used to make this calculation. You could save time (which is important to us given the truncated nature of the engagement process, which is now perilously and conveniently close to the maximum time frame for processing FOI requests) by providing the PAC with this data prior to the survey being distributed. As we have requested via the FOI process, we want to know the specific costs and budget items used to calculate this $11,288 figure. The basis for this calculation must be more transparent, given its centrality to the VSB’s argument. We would also like to know how this value compares with the per-student cost at all other annexes. So, in short, the manner in which this value was calculated needs to be more fully specified before it can be used as a key point justifying closure. In sum, please provide us with the details on this calculation (listing each budget item, particularly itemizing each human resource expense by number of individuals and job title). And, please provide comparison figures for other annexes.
- Building on our previous point, asking for the details on the per-student cost calculation and particularly the human resource elements, we are very concerned about the fact that the VSB consistently mentions that the savings in closing QEA will be primarily related to staff costs. In the survey preamble these savings are given a value of $150-300,000. In past conversations and in his remarks with the Tyee, David Nelson specified that these would come from staff savings. This claim of staff savings is, in part, why we want to know how many people and which job titles are associated with the calculation in point 2, above. Once we understand whose employment costs are billed to QEA we can then ask how it is possible that you intend to relieve these people of their employment? That said, there are many questions that the claim of staff savings raises, which is important because this value is given as critical context in the survey preamble. Among these questions are, who currently is listed as working at QEA and has their employment costs included in the per-capita cost calculation? And, which of these staff are going to be fired or otherwise relieved of their duties to get the staff savings you mention in the preamble? Finally, among the other questions, we would ask, are you really able to relieve these staff of their positions, for example are they unionized staff members? In brief, your arguments about staff savings make the issue of your per-student cost calculation all the more urgent. All of these questions can’t be answered until you provide a detailed accounting, including in human resource terms, of the per-capita education costs as requested in point 2, above.
- You mention in the table provided with survey question # 6, that there is insufficient room for three kindergarten French Immersion classes at JQ (which would need to exist if the kindergarten cohort from QEA joined JQ’s two kindergarten classes). You also mention in the survey preamble that there is a commitment to maintaining French Immersion. You must put up front, as critical context, that a move to JQ will result in a reduction in 0.5-1 French Immersion intake classes (based on the proposal not mentioned until question #6, that a move to JQ would result in alternating 2 or 3 kindergarten intakes per year, not the full 3 intakes as necessitated by the QEA move). In short, the implications of QEA’s closure for French Immersion support more widely are not made transparent at all. A move to JQ will, according to your own data, reduce by up to a full kindergarten class the capacity of the VSB to provide French Immersion. Please be honest about this and put this in the preamble and do not require readers to put all these complex elements together to come to this currently buried conclusion.
- Perhaps most importantly among our concerns is the structure and nature of question # 3. This is a deeply troubling and dishonest question. It is the first substantive question on the survey and no matter what a respondent answers it ends up providing support for the closure arguments you offer in the preamble (and to which we take strong issue in our questions above). This is the same kind of deceptive questioning that the VSB received so much bad press for in the MACC engagement process. All of the answers to question #3 are, in different ways, supportive of the arguments you have offered for closure. This is completely unacceptable. Furthermore, you must randomize the response order in a question of this kind. Providing the fiscally-oriented responses first to all respondents is deeply problematic and reflective of a flawed survey design. But, beyond randomizing the response order as any statistician will tell you must do, these answers themselves must offer scope for a respondent to argue against closure! At the moment, all answers to this pivotal question offer support for closure, which is outrageously deceptive and unethical. Among the many more honest responses that could be included for this question are: 1) Insisting that the VSB not dispose of school lands, 2) ensure that no disposals take place without planning to at least 25-30 years in the future, 3) ensuring that new school construction is not funded through disposal of existing schools, 4) ensuring that school disposals do not take place during pandemics, 5) ensuring that enrolment data used in closure decisions are compatible with data from the BC Ministry of Education projections, etc. etc. etc.
This is a preliminary response to the survey. We would provide more detail now but given that you have sent us this draft on the Friday before the Monday on which the survey is to be distributed we feel obligated to get back to you in short order. We do expect our concerns to be addressed prior to distribution of the survey.
Naturally, if you have questions, please don’t hesitate to let us know.
-QEA PAC Executive
Response from Jessica Delaney:
Thank you for your email. The survey was shared with you in response to your request and in the interest of transparency.
There is an opportunity for open-ended written feedback within the survey tool and you are invited again to share your full responses, including the items identified below. Input received through the survey, upcoming dialogue sessions and the VSB’s engage email will be reviewed and summarized for the Board’s review and consideration. All email submissions are being included in full as an Appendix.
Response from QEA PAC Exec:
We do not accept that sending the final survey to us on the Friday before release constitutes transparency and accountability. Transparency means that the survey must be contextualized with accurate data supported by reputable sources and not include misleading or inaccurate claims. Transparency means having a process that involves the QEA PAC during the creation of the survey. Most importantly, transparency means having survey questions that allow respondents to express divergent opinions, including those not aligned with closure. At the moment, the survey preamble is completely one-sided, with no arguments offered for keeping this (or any) school open or for not selling off any school lands. Furthermore, these one-sided claims are based on misleading and inaccurate information, making claims not supported by the VSB or the Ministry of Education’s own data. In addition, the survey questions incorporate results of inadequate and misleading analysis including but not limited to unsupported conclusions on purported savings, enrollment trends, and operating costs. The question responses available in the survey are completely unfair, particularly for the first, and principal, substantive question, #3. This question, which is focused on the factors trustees should consider in their vote (really the key issue in the survey and one that is pivotal to the future of QEA) offers no way for a respondent to answer that does not support the one-sided arguments offered by the VSB in the preamble for closure.
The survey as it stands is not acceptable and is an unfair and biased tool that is incompatible with the standards expected of IAP2 practitioners. If the VSB has strong arguments for closure, there would be no need for consistent delivery of information at the last minute (typically on Fridays for critical events happening on Mondays) and there would be no need to rig engagement processes to get the answers they want. We do expect engagement consultants, paid with tax dollars, to push back on the VSB as expected by your own Code of Ethics and we will expect revisions to be made prior to the survey being distributed.
QEA PAC Executive