April 19th, 2017
The matter of the city getting involved in the closing of high schools got itself in front of city council again last night – the outcome as the same. The city is going to sit on its hands.
Denise Davy, a community advocate delegated to city council and made comments that are worth repeating and sharing.
Last month, Minister of Education Mitzie Hunter reminded School boards and municipal councils that they are required to work with and consult with each other on the impact of school closures and how they will affect the community.
To quote, Minister Hunter said, “our school boards and municipalities must make every effort to work together to ultimately support positive experiences for our students and the communities they live in.”
In an interview with CBC radio on March 29th, Minister Hunter repeated this statement that municipal leaders and school board leaders should be working together when it comes to making the difficult decisions around closures.
To quote from that interview, Minister Hunter said schools are the heart of a community, “That conversation (between school boards and councils) needs to be happening.”
This did not happen in Burlington and I believe it is a solid reason for city council to ask the province that this process be suspended.
Schools are a critical component of our city and we need to know the social and economic impact of what these closures will mean. Some municipalities have written to the province requesting a moratorium of the closure process while others have asked for staff reports to study the impact of those closures.
Sarnia’s city council did an extensive Community Impact Assessment Study that helped determine how the school closures fit in with their strategic plan.
Toronto Council voted unanimously to ask the city manager for an inventory of city interests in schools and also sent a request to the TDSB and province asking to change the school funding formula and review its approach on school closures.
The list of municipalities which have called for a suspension of the process is long so I won’t read all the names but I have printed it out.
What I want to make absolutely clear is that the high noise volume around this issue isn’t just an emotional outpouring because parents don’t want to see their child’s school close. Parents get that there are empty seats, they understand the issue of population decline just as they understand there is only so much money in the education pot.
The emails and calls you’ve been receiving are not about that. It’s about the process.
As one of the hundreds of parents who have had a front row seat to this process, I can tell you not only from a procedural viewpoint it is deeply flawed, it has not followed ministry guidelines and worst of all, it has moved at such a breakneck speed that many critical questions have been left unanswered.
The closure of some 600 schools across the province is being called the largest and fastest sweep of school closures in the history of this province. And it’s all happening in communities like ours in a matter of months.
Consider that Bateman and Nelson were only officially added to the possible closure list in early February which means there will have been two and a half months to study all of the pitfalls of closing of the schools.
There have been no in-depth reports or studies detailing the short and long-term impact these closures will have on students or on the city nor has there been any detailed reports on dollar costs.
Case in point is the city pool attached to Bateman. Both Gerry Cullen, the board’s Superintendent of Facility Services and Director Stuart Miller told me in face to face separate interviews that they had no idea what would happen to Centennial pool should Bateman close nor did they know the cost of construction to separate it from the school.
Even if the province provided funding for this type of work, the pool would see far fewer people use it because it would no longer be used by students during the day, this is after some $2 million were spent on upgrading it. This is an example of how the closures would impact the city.
Central parents have asked for months about the grade 7 and 8 students who are in the high school and from what I know, they haven’t yet received an answer to that.
I came to this experience as a parent but I also brought a journalist’s perspective where I covered council meetings, OMB hearings, human rights tribunals and seen the inner workings of many processes.
I can tell you without any reservation the PAR has been the most disorganized, irresponsible and unaccountable process I have ever witnessed. Bar none.
We’re not talking about closing a strip plaza here. We’re talking about schools filled with hundreds of students and yet it’s being decided in less than three months.
Your council took longer to decide the fate of a heritage train station than a decision which will have far more ramifications.
Lastly, I want to address a concern that was raised about it being too late to step forward and that the motion would likely have no impact. I have to respectfully disagree on both points.
Your vote to support a suspension of this process could be the tipping point and even if it isn’t, it would send a message to tens of thousands of constituents that you understand their concerns.