Making the Connections

I own a small woodlot in Cumberland County; it's a small island of forest in a sea of clearcuts. Most of the clearcut land around me is owned by the Irving forestry interests or the Crown, and other parts are owned by non-resident and dis-interested folk who probably have never visited their woodlot more than once in their lives.

There are two big pressures on the forests in my neighbourhood: one is government policy, and the other is energy prices.

This blog explores the intersection of those two pressures.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The New Face of Entitlement

Gary G. Clarke
There is a class struggle coming to Nova Scotia, but it won't be between the 1% and the 99%, as is happening in the USA. Instead, it will be between the civil service elites (which includes our MLA's) and the private sector taxpayers who actually pay the bills.

This man, Mr Clarke, is the recently retired Superintendent of Schools and CEO of the Chignecto Central Regional School Board (CCRSB). He is the man most responsible for the closing of the schools in Wentworth, River John and Maitland, and he is the one who set the tone for the whole school review process.

It is important to understand the school review process from the point-of-view of the communities involved. There was a regulated process that was to be followed, with the Board staff making the case for closing the schools and the community making the case for keeping the schools open, and the elected Board would make the final decision. But the whole process is predicated upon both sides acting in good faith. The communities have no power in such a process so we have to rely on the Board staff acting in good faith. The Board staff are under no compunction to actually do so, and so they didn't.

This man, Mr Clarke, set the tone for the whole review process. He knew that he was going to close the three schools, he knew that he did not have to really follow the closure protocols, and he knew that he had nothing to fear from the Minister of Education and Childhood Development, as he had her in his pocket. So he let the process play out, his staff did not co-operate with the Wentworth community groups, and he did not ensure that the groups received the information that they asked for. He did not have to follow the regulations and protocols because he was above that. He was the Superintendent!

It is a delight to read his biography on the CCRSB webpage. Here's part of it:

Gary Clarke was appointed as Superintendent of Schools/CEO on September 1, 2010. With extensive knowledge and experience in all aspects of school, regional and provincial education, Mr. Clarke is trusted and deeply respected as an educational leader in our Board and across the province.

Throughout his career, Mr. Clarke has worked to promote educational excellence in the Chignecto-Central Regional School Board and the former Cumberland District School Board. He started as a classroom teacher in Parrsboro, N.S. in 1979, taught in Springhill, and then moved into vice-principal and principal roles in River Hebert and Springhill. In 1991, Mr. Clarke was appointed Sub-System Supervisor - Secondary Education for the Cumberland District School Board, and then Director of Elementary and Secondary Programs and Services in 1994. When the Chignecto-Central Regional School Board formed in 1996, Mr. Clarke was appointed Chignecto Family of Schools Supervisor, and then served as the Director of Education Services from 2006 until his appointment as Superintendent in 2010.

Mr. Clarke’s clear focus on student achievement, diverse student needs, and Professional Learning Community culture has contributed to the extensive growth in CCRSB student results in provincial and Board assessments, and has directly impacted the ongoing success of CCRSB students, staff and the greater community.

That's  quite a piece of prose. Do you suppose that he wrote it himself?

Here's quite a different take on Mr Clarke's impact on the ongoing success of CCRSB students, staff and the greater community:

This man, Mr Emmerson, was recently honoured at a meeting of the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters Association, held in Fall River, NS in June 2015. Here's a photo from their website:

 In his remarks, Mr Emmerson said that the quality of education that high school graduates have received is so poor that they are forced to give applicants competency tests to ensure that they have enough literacy and numeracy to be able to work in the PolyCello plant in Amherst. Here's some of the text of a newspaper report of his remarks (Halifax Herald, 11 June 2015):

Job seekers at PolyCello’s packaging plant in Amherst must write a competency test before they’re hired.

But the results from today’s high school graduates, compared to those from 10 or 15 years ago, paint a dismal picture.

“They’re half what they used to be,” Stephen Emmerson, the firm’s president and CEO, said. “We are basically graduating people from high school that are functionally illiterate.”

This lack of basic skills is an issue not just for PolyCello, but for manufacturing companies across the province, the Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters Nova Scotia says. [..]

But “the people problem is really the biggest impediment that we’re seeing going forward to exports,” CME vice-president Carole Lee Reinhardt said.

Nova Scotia’s aging population means there is a shortage of young workers to replace retiring workers, and business leaders told the CME these younger workers are not of the same calibre as the retiring workers, she said.

Business leaders lamented the “no fail policy,” saying it has left students woefully unprepared for the workforce, with some expecting rewards just for showing up, Reinhardt said.

Several reported they can’t trust the quality of a high school diploma and, like PolyCello, feel the need to test for competency, she said.

In fact, many of these workers “can’t do enough math to keep safe” at work, Reinhardt told the crowd. 

Mr Emmerson says that in the past 10 or 15 years the quality of education that graduates of local high schools display (when applying for jobs at PolyCello in Amherst) has halved, and it is in exactly those years that our Mr Clarke was Superintendent of Education in the Amherst area, and then Superintendent for the whole school board. That decline happened on Mr Clarke's watch, when he was the man in charge of ensuring that our young people received a good education.

It is useful to read Mr Clarke's biography (above) in context. It appears that he has been a teacher and civil servant all his life, and there is no indication in his bio that he has ever actually made anything for sale, or sold goods or services in a free market, or ever had to meet payroll, or ever had to produce in order to eat.  His entire career has been spent in the funded sector, where money appears magically in one's bank account every second Thursday, and the amount of that money has little or nothing to do with one's productivity over the previous weeks and months. It is in fact a sinecure, which Wikipedia defines as:

A sinecure (from Latin sine = "without" and cura = "care") means an office that requires or involves little or no responsibility, labour, or active service. The term originated in the medieval church, where it signified a post without any responsibility for the "cure [care] of souls", the regular liturgical and pastoral functions of a cleric, but came to be applied to any post, secular or ecclesiastical, that involved little or no actual work. Sinecures have historically provided a potent tool for governments or monarchs to distribute patronage, while recipients are able to store up titles and easy salaries.

That sure sounds like Mr Clarke's job. I am sure that there was work involved, as he had a multi-million dollar budget to administer,  but the actual job was, or should have been, to educate our children. According to Mr Emmerson, whose family does actually make things, and sell them in a competitive environment, and does actually invest in people, plants and equipment,  the education system [led by Mr Clarke] does not deliver what it used to.


 I am left wondering how our education system got so badly off the rails, and I think that the answer lies in the fact that teachers live and work in a bubble. When one becomes a teacher and secures a permanent position, every career and policy choice from then on is self-referential, by which I mean that the system is closed to outside input and everyone in positions of authority in the education system are products of that same system. The values of everyone, from top to bottom, are shaped by the system that they work in. Everyone in the system is a member of the same union, and subject to the same formal and informal discipline. And except in the case of egregious moral lapses a teacher cannot be disciplined or removed.

This is abundantly clear to any parent who has ever watched a community try to remove an incompetent teacher. We have tried to do that twice in Wentworth, that I can remember, and in each case it takes years, during which ever more damage is inflicted upon our community, and the teacher in question is usually transferred out of the community as the easiest way to deal with the situation. (Too many bishops dealt with pedophile priests in the same way.) There is no chance that there would ever be any question about said teacher's competence. Teachers are never assessed by anyone outside the bubble; that would be far too inconvenient.

And now, try to imagine the situation when the provincial Minister of Education is also a lifelong inhabitant of that same bubble. Nothing will be questioned. No authority will be questioned. There will be no independent assessment of the greater good. Teachers always know what is best. What other standard is there?


 Being a teacher is an excellent gig, and being a superintendent is even better. Bigger salary, better perks, and an array of benefits that small businesspeople can only dream of. A defined benefit pension with a payout equal to as much as 70% of the salary of the best five years, a pension indexed to the cost of living, a medical and dental plan, and an array of other benefits. All of this is paid for, or guaranteed by the taxpayers. And yet the teachers want more. Always more. Until very recently teachers could take online courses from Drake University in Iowa, with no assignments or tests, and thereby increase their salaries by as much as $5,000 per year, all pensionable earnings. (It's worth having a look at the Drake University website. Just Google them.)

But it's the taxpayers that cover the cost of all this, and we have no say. And so what will we do when the choices for spending our tax dollars boil down to having an ambulance and paramedics stationed in your county, or topping up the teachers' pension fund?

There's class struggle coming between the entitled civil servants, who do no-one's bidding, and the private sector, who have to pay. It reminds me of the rallying cry of the reformers of the 19th century, who demanded no taxation without representation! Taxpayers are going to want a direct say in the remuneration and benefits, and performance assessments, of the people whom we pay. 

As for Mr Clarke, he's retired now, with a pension of about $150,000 per year and all of his benefits. Do you suppose that he could ever own up to the fact that, in his job, he presided over the devaluation of a high school diploma to the extent that local employers will not accept the certificate as evidence of literacy and numeracy, and instead have to test for themselves?

 If you ever see Mr Clarke, ask him if he has ever in his life paid for his own dental work. I am thinking that we paid for it. We pay for our own, and we pay for his.

And he thanked us by closing our schools, because he felt like it.

When did it happen that civil servants became our masters? 

Time for change.

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