Message from EMSB Chair Joe Ortona: We must find a way to responsibly implement the Transformation Plan
On February 10 we had a successful virtual town hall meeting to review the Transformation Plan, and on behalf of the Council of Commissioners I wish to thank the close to 200 members of the EMSB community who attended. We had a constructive exchange, and we will be sure to keep the views that were shared in mind as we move forward with the implementation of key elements of the Transformation Plan.
For those of you who were unable to participate I encourage you to consult http://www.emsbpressreleases.com/2021/02/emsb-holds-virtual-town-hall-meeting-to.html to review Interim Director General Russell Copeman’s PowerPoint presentation and to view the video of the event.
At the same time, I thought that it would be helpful to provide an overview of the Transformation Plan’s five streams or areas of focus – Governance; organizational design; leadership, talent, and culture; processes and control mechanisms; and digital transformation – and outline our challenges and our next steps.
As the Council of Commissioners has said in the past, there are many good elements to the Transformation Plan, which we are keen to advance. It was drafted, however, as if Bill 40, whose implementation has been put on hold by the courts due to our constitutional challenge, was in effect. As a result, elements need to be modified to reflect our mandate to “manage and control” our school system. We are, for example, increasing the number of statutory Committees of the Council from the three (executive committee, human resources and audit) to five. We are determined to be fiscally responsible, while focusing on our core mission: student success. That is why we intend to add a Finance Committee and Education Committee.
Until recently we had a director for the eastern and western parts of our territory who were responsible for the elementary and secondary schools in their respective regions. We now have a director for elementary schools and another for secondary schools.
The Transformation Plan recommends a major change to the structure of Adult Education and Vocational Services (AEVS) with the integration of ancillary functions of AEVS (such as human resources, budgeting, student services etc.) into the overall EMSB structure. As we plan on rebuilding this critical unit post pandemic, the Council of Commissioners is reassessing this strategy. We have engaged an external consultant who will soon be submitting his report, which we will be sharing with the community.
Leadership, Talent and Culture
The key to our being the top performing school board in Quebec is our people. Our Human Resources Department has a critical role to play in recruitment and retention, and we are committed to ensuring it has the tools to provide our people with the support they need. In the short term we are asking HR to focus on accountability and performance measurement, ensuring communications are consistent and regular, and training.
Procurement and Control Mechanisms
Behind the scenes Material Management plays a vital role, ensuring our infrastructure meets the needs of our community, allowing our faculty and students to focus on learning, not snow removal. This department has a $39 million annual budget (about 10% of our overall budget) in order to keep our 76 schools and centres and equipment in first rate condition and environmentally sound. In so doing it manages all of our procurement activities, ensuring we comply with government policies. Thanks to this team we were, for example, able to install 800 air purifiers in classrooms without mechanical ventilation, as well as managing several major renovation projects in schools.
Until now, we have been outsourcing project management to 12 project managers. In keeping with a key recommendation of the Transformation Plan it is clear that we would benefit by having this expertise in-house, and we are starting the hiring process. We are convinced that this will help us with work planning, lead to an upgrading of our processes, facilitate the implementation of our digital platform and ensure that we have the appropriate tools and leadership to advance our priorities cost-effectively and efficiently.
Information Technology Systems (IT), which is comprised of Infrastructure (hardware), applications and development (software, including educational software) and services to schools and centres underpins everything we do as a school board. It is evident that we need to rebuild IT so that it has the capacity to drive our Digital Transformation and move from being a “Service Provider” to Strategic Partner and Catalyst for Digital Transformation
We are in the midst of developing an IT master plan with the support of an outside resource. We expect to be in a position to share the plan in the near future.
In looking ahead, the Council of Commissioners intends to move forward with the heart of the Transformation Plan. We need to have the proper support services and systems in place. Our information systems are out of date, and we will be focusing on the master plan that has been developed. HR needs to improve our hiring and retention policies and approach. We are committed to meeting Treasury Board guidelines for material management and contracting and set up an effective internal audit and compliance department. Finally, we look forward to reviewing the external consultant’s report on Adult Education and Vocational Services.
Funding Is a Major Challenge.
The Transformation Plan, which was adopted before your Council of Commissioners came into office, calls for the phased-in hiring of 25 to 30 people over the coming three years mainly in Material Management and IT. The Trustee estimated that it will cost an additional $3 million annually at term with some long-term savings expected due to a more efficient structure. Unfortunately, this represents operating money that the EMSB does not have. Furthermore, during a Council of Commissioners meeting on November 4, 2020 the Trustee announced that the EMSB had obtained approval from Québec’s Ministry of Education to finance the implementation of the Transformation Plan using the EMSB’s accumulated surplus. On February 17th the Deputy Minister of Education confirmed, in writing, that this is not the case. Consequently, and despite the affirmation of the Trustee to the contrary, the EMSB cannot use the accumulated surplus to fund the Transformation Plan.
While we appreciate the importance of moving forward with implementing the Plan and are well aware the government is insisting we do so, we are committed to being fiscally responsible. In the coming weeks we will make the case to the Quebec government for additional funding for the Transformation Plan while exploring structural cost saving measures which will increase efficiency of the administrative services WITHOUT reducing services to students.
So, the next step is to formalize the critical path along with a detailed costing.
We must find a way to responsibly implement the Transformation Plan because it will make the EMSB a more efficient school board, allowing us to better serve our students. That is our challenge.