A process of institutional indecision

Array

It’s time to bring a little focus on the lack of organization within the Yukon Education Department.

Federal auditor general Sheila Fraser knocked the department for not having adequate plans for everything from staffing levels to the replacement of its aged and rundown schools, like FH Collins.

This is easy to believe.

In the last four years, the department has spent more than $279,000 on two reports exploring the need to replace FH Collins, only to conclude a new school, if built, had better have “caring, healthy environments and welcoming spaces.”

Undoubtably, more study is planned.

So the department is indecisive.

And, ironically, after all it spends on consultant work, it lacks plans.

Or does it?

During the recent Public Account Committee hearings following up on Fraser’s report, Pamela Hine, the department’s deputy minister, said the department does not rely on fate.

“It’s not like we’re just drawing straws or have a dart board in the department,” she said.

The department has plans, said Hine. They’re just not readily available.

It doesn’t have them organized. They have to be pulled together.

Oh, that’s OK then.

Imagine, for a moment, a student approaching a teacher about a term paper with that explanation.

Acceptable?

So let’s review.

Fraser asks to review Education’s plans. Isn’t given any.

She reports as much publicly.

The department’s lead official then appears before a legislative committee and announces the department has plans, somewhere, but, apparently, couldn’t be bothered to produce them for Fraser.

Hine vows to have the plans complete by August — just as a new school year is in full swing. Fixes, if any are proposed, will flow to the classroom in August 2010, at the earliest.

Acceptable?

Or just a stalling tactic by a hidebound bureaucracy?

The department’s published graduation rate of 89 per cent was a deception, purposely inflated by statistical sleight of hand.

It’s actually between 56 and 63 students per 100, depending on how you manipulate the figures. The national average is 75.

Hine, who arrived in June 2007, had a problem with the department’s math. She suggested it might be more accurate in the future.

Acceptable?

The department said there isn’t enough information to pin down the graduation rate of aboriginal people.

Bollocks, said Fraser, pegging the graduation rate for aboriginal students at 40 students per 100, using material gathered from the department.

The database is old and runs software that is no longer supported, said Hine.

A new system will be in place in 2013, she said, adding — probably quite quickly, once she looked into the eyes of the committee members — that improvements will happen sooner.

Acceptable?

Fraser found student absenteeism had increased over the last five years.

Officials were asked why.

Cold weather and hunting, said Christie Whitley, the department’s assistant deputy minister, as if something profound had changed in the Yukon during the five-year period.

There might be other reasons, but you’d have to ask the students, she said.

We can infer the department hasn’t.

Acceptable?

There clearly is a lack of organization and initiative within the department.

This is an issue of direction — a failure of the officials who are supposed to be setting directions and standards, not of the frontline educators.

And, following the public accounts committee hearing, clearly the fix has to be demanded from the next tier — the cabinet.

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