An open letter to Burlington Residents regarding incorrect info being promoted about Marianne Meed Ward & Leah Reynolds regarding school closures in Burlington.

opinionred 100x100By Steve Cussons

September 17th, 2018

BURLINGTON, ON

 

With the Municipal Election looming and the volume of untruths in this election I find myself compelled to present my expert opinion on this issue. I say expert as I was a very active member of the PARC representing Aldershot HS and community and attended every single meeting including those at the Board after the vote was made.

The first untruth is that Marianne Meed Ward had an unfair influence during the par process because of her position as Councillor. I can emphatically state the she had no more influence than myself and the other 12 community members of the PARC. In fact her professionalism added important value to an otherwise difficult process. More importantly the committee as a whole had no real power in the whole process other than to provide recommendations to Board.

PARC with options on the walls

Members of the Halton District School Board PARC committee meeting in a formal session.

Unlike some committee members Marianne always kept her composure even when being attacked by fellow committee members. She was elected by the school council where her children attend just like six other members that were put on the committee. Marianne disclosed up front to the Board of her role as Councillor in the city and was told she was still quite welcome to join the committee. The other seven community members like myself were randomly chosen by the Board as we had put our names in the hat to be part of the PARC. Our mandate was to represent our respective communities and to bring forward to the committee ideas comments and concerns of our respective communities. I know each of us did exactly that, no more no less and this included reasons for not closing schools and reasons for closing various schools.

Many members put forth recommendations to close schools other than their own based on feedback from their community. So to suggest that Marianne had any more ability to move a certain objective forward than any of the other members is just plain false.

MMW typing

PARC member Marianne Meed Ward typing on her computer.

The other major untruth being circulated for months and I believe will be ramped us as the election draws closer is that on June 07 the night of the final vote to close Bateman &Lester B Pearson Marianne Meed Ward and Trustee Leah Reynolds colluded to help close Bateman. This is an outright lie and I am an expert as I sat beside Marianne that evening and was in discussion with her about the motion on floor which had nothing to do with the vote to close Bateman but a different motion all together.

The rules were so uncertain that not only did the board require some guidance from legal counsel and then actually had to go in. private session to try and sort out the protocol.

Marianne provided Trustee Reynolds with her interpretation of the ruling as she saw it as Trustee Reynolds was an active participant in the motion. What bothers me more is that Lisa Bull the PARC Representative sitting right behind Marianne and myself took the totally unethical first step of capturing images of Marianne’s private laptop screen she was using to capture the texting.

Reynolds with Roberts rules

Leah Reynolds being observed by HDSB vice chair Kim

Then to take it one step further posts it on social media suggesting the conversation was about how to vote to close Bateman and plying Trustee Reynolds with direction. I am appalled the a fellow member would stoop to such low and yet the media has never question the ethics of this. I have a timestamp of the moment the images were snapped and they were at least an hour before the vote to close Bateman.

It was confirmed that all the Trustees that evening were receiving mobile communications from constituents and others for various reasons and I input and this was a normal practice allowed at these meetings. The fact they needed very specific lawyers experts in procedural matters to assist in deciphering what the was the correct process and then have to go into private session should be obvious why someone like Marianne with years of this type of process being City Council would be stepping in to assist Trustee Leah as she happened to be the Trustee in the ward she represents on City Council and the Trustee of the school where her children attended.

Lisa Bull shocked

Lisa Bull

There was no collusion but there was certainly unethical behaviour by Lisa Bull a fellow PARC member and then to be exaggerated and pushed as truth in social media by many others in the community unhappy with the decisions.

In summary it is sad that we have had to close to schools but to defame individuals that continually put out an earnest effort to help our communities in so many ways is so wrong. I am not running for any office, my school did not close but I pride myself in ethical behaviour and will stand up when I factually know untruths are being made to hurt others I respect.

I am ready to debate any one on the facts of the PARC process and the specific night of the vote to close two schools.

 

Steve Cussons AldershotSteve Cussons is an Aldershot resident and a business man who operates a modern printing company..

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7 comments to An open letter to Burlington Residents regarding incorrect info being promoted about Marianne Meed Ward & Leah Reynolds regarding school closures in Burlington.

  • Charles Robert

    Lisa, Thank you for your efforts to provide the facts on this matter! It is disappointing that so many want to explain away this seemingly unethical behavior because it benefitted them. Meed Ward came to my parents house campaigning and argued with my retired mom for over 20 minutes why she wasn’t responsible for the school closures and just ran down Rick, not offering any constructive ways to deal with real issues in Burlington.

  • Lisa Bull

    Hello All – As the “accused” in the above article (and another PAR “expert” and Committee member) I thought it only fair that I have a chance to respond. Not that I expect to change any minds that have been made up about what “really” happened but to share my perspective. As most intelligent adults know, there are always multiple sides to every story and there is no such thing as a “true” account. Accounts can only represent the perspective of the person sharing them. So – here’s mine.
    As anyone who followed the PAR process knows it was wrought with conflict, misinformation and confusion from the start. And, this continued right until the night of the final vote to determine which, if any schools in Burlington would be closed. The tension of the night was palpable – it was clearly felt by the Trustees and all of us who attended in the gallery. I came to the evening hopeful. I knew that our Trustee – Amy Collard – was planning on bringing forward a motion to introduce some alternate solutions to closing Robert Bateman (the full motion is posted on the Save Bateman Facebook site) I – like many of the community members were hopeful that the other Trustees might be willing to give this motion a chance. Ms Collard had shared her planned motion with her colleagues in advance of the meeting so they knew it was coming. I thought her brave, innovative and courageous for wanting to try AGAIN to look at another option other than closing a school. However, it became clear very quickly that none of the other Trustees were interested in this. Much confusion began to take place as ms Collard tried to introduce her motion. The Chair was incredibly rude to Ms Collard during this process and other Trustees – including Leah Reynolds appeared to be working hard to vote against Ms Collard’s right to be even being able to introduce the motion. All of this can be seen on the video tape of the evening. As I sat with a friend and fellow Batemen parent – in awe of what was going on in front of us – we noticed that Councillor Meed Ward was furiously typing away on her I-Pad in front of us. She was making no attempt to sheild her notes and we weren’t standing our our chairs or peering over her shoulder to read. What she was writing was clear as day and right in front of us. Was she saying “CLOSE BATEMAN?”. Of course not. But, what she appeared to be doing was providing very directive advice to Ms Reynold on how to stop Amy Collard’s ability to make a motion and then to stop the motion itself. At first, my friend and I couldn’t believe what we were reading. While the photos posted on social media were a bit blurry, the messages we read Councillor Meed Ward typing were perfectly clear. They included:
    ” DON’T VOTE IN FAVOR! “(caps on in orginial) Let it go – done your job”
    “Do not support (uphold) the Chair’s ruling to allow the amendment”
    “Okay – you have done your job”

    I still have the photos and am happy to share if someone wants to invest time in having them enhanced. Maybe I’ll be proven wrong?
    However, from our perspective, it appeared very clear that Councillor Meed Ward was a/ telling Ms Reynolds how to act, vote and speak and b/ that she was attempting to influence the outcome of a critical Board vote.
    In my experience as a member of the PAR Committee I’d tried at least once to collaborate on an effort to stop all school closures. I’d tried to bring the whole Committee together to write a letter to the Provincial government as a group and while most all of the other school reps agreed to this, Ms Ward and the other rep from Central waited until the last minute and then decided not to work together with the Committee. This lead me to believe that Councillor Meed Ward was focused solely on keeping Central open and had no interest in working with others to keep all schools open. I add this only to explain that I had every reason to belive that Ms Meed Ward was working with Ms Reynolds to shut down any attempt to save Bateman from closure.
    Was I right in my assessment on the night of the vote? Councillor Meed Ward argues that I was not, She argues that she was merely trying to help Ms Reynold navigate Robert’s Rules. I can tell you that from what I saw, her notes appeared to go far beyond this.I suspect that the full “truth” will never be known.
    I made the decision to share this information publically because I was shocked by what I saw. As someone who lives in Ward Two I was already incredibly disappointed in Ms Reynolds decision to go back on her campagin promise of “Close No Schools” and felt that the communication between her and Councillor Meed Ward was unacceptable.
    I know that Councillor Meed Ward has a small but strong core of avid supporters who will defend her and her conduct until the end. And, in our democratic society they will soon have their right to show that support by voting for her. I, only the other hand, will show my support for leaders who I believe have demonstrated a committment and a willingness to support to ALL citizens of Burlington.
    One final thought for you all. I’m currently dealing with a serious health issue. And, while all of the activity around PAR and the election seemed so important and so critical months ago and inspired so much passion, rage and anger I am learning – unfortunately the hard way – that these issues, while are important, are certainly not the most important things in life.
    So I leave this discussion by genuinely wishing everyone all the best.

  • Jeremy Skinner

    Steve

    Thank you for your support of your community with regards to the Halton District School Board (HDSB) Burlington Secondary School Board Program and Accommodation Review (PAR) process.

    I, as a resident of Ward 5 and of whom sent three children to Robert Bateman High School can only apologize for the hurt the communications you have described would have had on Marianne’s and Leah’s election campaigns.

    I personally would be surprise if Lisa had anything to do with the recent communications which have been stated as being received. Perhaps by publicly revealing the contents of these communications, we may together identify those who distributed them.

    I too witnessed many of the PAR meetings where the participants valiantly sought to accommodate the needs of the catchments associated with all seven high schools under review. I too sent e-mails and messages to the PAR representatives and to various assigned HDSB staff who supported the PAR process. I delegated as to the need to maintain all of our Public High Schools because of the future demand I felt would necessitate their use once the proposed Mobility Hubs surrounding each of Burlington’s three GO stations were built out. Rightfully so, my argument as to Mobility Hubs was rejected upon my subsequent discovery as to the the length of time involved from design, build and to ultimate resident habitation will be measured over decades, not years. I also wrote to Director Stuart Miller to express my concerns and the need to articulate the benefits that the PAR process created to our community.

    I too may have hurt some of those with which I communicated with in my attempts to save our schools. To those I may have afflicted, I offer my unconditional apologies.

    I believe that we all can agree that the PAR process was far from perfect. But, I am convinced that the PAR process did provide valuable input for those who ultimately had the uncomfortable task of exercising their votes through a public witnessed majority vote decision process. We may disagree with each may have voted. But vote they did.

    The decision had been made.The appeal for an Accommodation Review was completed and could not find fault serious enough to invalidate the decision. Lester Pearson just closed as a Public High School and Robert Bateman will soon follow in June 2020. The Doug Ford Provincial Government has not expressed any willingness to reverse prior government decisions regarding school closings and in fact has made access to development funding for Halton school boards more difficult especially for net new schools required to serve Milton and Oakville where new residential neighbourhoods are being developed. The remaining “Save Our School” signs should come down. Nothing left can be done to change these decisions.

    Should Robert Bateman be deemed surplus by HDSB, then the predefined list offering right of first refusal may afford the City with the opportunity to acquire the property and buildings. The City being earlier on the list before accepting offers from developers. I believe that another School Board has either acquired or is currently leasing the Lester Pearson site.

    We all need to look to the future…

    I believe that we all, (all because we are accountable for the health and welfare of our City of which we delegate responsibility to our elected officials), must take a moment to consider:
    • what were the causes which precipitated the PAR in the first place, and more importantly,
    • what we can do to avoid a re-occurrence.

    I believe that the short answer as to the cause is that families with children occupy a shrinking demographic of Burlington’s population. Two reasons as to why may relate to the fact that “empty nesters” are choosing to remain in their homes longer in life and that finding residences suitable for families with children is becoming increasingly more difficult to find, especially at an affordable cost point.

    To avoid a re-occurrence, I suggest that we look to the (HDSB PAR) Director’s Final Report whose filename was dated May 17 for warnings of which we must heed or be prepared to suffer future consequences. I quote three sections below.

    “Areas Requiring On-Going Monitoring

    There are a number of areas that will require monitoring during and following the implementation of approved recommendations. Those areas include:
    1. Enrolment at Aldershot High School
    2. French Immersion enrolment at Aldershot High School and Burlington Central High School
    3. Uptake in the French Immersion program at M.M. Robinson High School (enrolment pressures at Dr. Frank J. Hayden Secondary School)
    4. Sustainability and equity of the Extended French program
    5. Enrolment at M.M. Robinson High School
    6. Enrolment at Nelson High School
    7. Enrolment in International Baccalaureate program at Burlington Central High School
    8. Enrolment of International fee-paying students at Burlington Central High School”

    “Challenges Inherent in Staffing Small Schools to Ensure Program Viability

    In secondary schools, the course offerings and staffing processes are largely the same; however, due to lower enrolments in a small school, course offerings are limited….Smaller schools must limit course offerings to ensure adequate student numbers in a course, offer alternative year programming to ensure numbers, or direct students to other pathways such as e-learning.”

    “Conclusion

    There is still an issue with the low enrolment at Aldershot High School. This will continue to be an issue, and the Halton District School Board is committed to supporting these students as it does with all others. The location of Aldershot High School made it much more challenging to address the declining enrolment; however as with other municipalities within the Halton District School Board, the recommendation is to support one school in Burlington with low enrolment. Moreover, the school will be explored as a magnet or thematic school, which may potentially increase enrolments in the future.”

    In summary

    It will be five years before we could find ourselves heading towards another PAR. Five years is not much time with which to at minimum plan and to commence building of suitable residences for families with children of school age or preschool age. Many of those families with children choosing to reside in these residences may choose to send their children to schools associated with the other three School Boards serving Burlington or to one of the many Private Schools. Some of Aldershot High School’s and Burlington Central High School’s surplus pupil space capacity has already been re-purposed to support students in Grade 7 & 8.

    In my opinion, the fasted means of developing affordable family with children suitable housing is by erecting townhomes, Mid-Rise and Tall Building rentals and condos are less preferred, mainly because they typically do not accommodate amenity areas which are children friendly. The City of Toronto has authored a document entitled Planning for Children in New Vertical Communities which offers many suggestions as to how to better accommodate.

    Note: The contents expressed are my own. However, you should be aware that I provide oversight to Paul Sharman’s Campaign Finances.

  • Maureen

    Thank you for providing so insight to what occurred. This won’t unfortunately change the very poor behaviour of some folks involved but gives the public at large some facts to compare to some bad information they received.

  • Tom Muir

    I had a lot to say and write about the school closing process, deeply involved as a citizen right from the start. A piece of this experience is relevant here.

    My first submission was sent in on January 15 2017, and Director Miller emailed me asking for a “chat”. I was out of the country at the time, so we settled for a phone chat.

    This took place on February 8, 2017 and lasted about 45 minutes.

    The point here is that Director Miller expressed to me a “general” reluctance to close a school in a downtown location, which in the specific context was obviously Central.

    However, he cautioned his reluctance based on the surplus seats and enrollment projections for Central. He said that he had to deal with that reality. But he still was reluctant to close a downtown school.

    As such, he asked me what my choice would be given the same question – would I choose to close a downtown school?

    I told him I didn’t want to close any schools period. But as a practical matter, in my sentiments about such things, and since he asked the question, I told him I understood that Central was the only “Downtown” school in Burlington, and so I would share his reluctance. I did say this reluctantly.

    My closing point is that given this only personal conversation or communication I had with Director Miller, I was not surprised when the closure of Central was taken off the table shortly after.

    I agree with Steve, as I don’t believe that either Marianne Meed Ward or Leah Reynolds had any collusion going on to close Bateman, or any school for that matter.

    Like all of us, they were prisoners of the process that was under the firm control of Director Miller, the Board, and in the end, the Trustees.

    I don’t know Leah Reynolds at all personally, but I do know Marianne, and I do not believe she would behave in such an unethical manner.

  • Colleen A

    Thank you so much for doing this Steve. It is about time that these lies (based in anger) be exposed for what they are. Well done!

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