Some tough talk on what parents and the PARC representing them have to do if high school closures are to be prevented.

highschoolsBy Pepper Parr

March 19th, 2017

BURLINGTON, ON

 

Tom Muir’s bottom line is that “the Board is cooking the books”.

Muir making a point

Tom Muir at a downtown planning discussion put on by Ward 2 city Councillor Marianne Meed Ward.

Muir, is a Burlington resident who lives in Aldershot.  He is a retired federal civil servant and a trenchant observer of what goes on in his city.  He was once described as an “acerbic” personality which Muir thought was pretty accurate.

The Board cited two reasons for asking the trustees to hold a Program Accommodation Review:

Condition 1: Low Utilization, Enhance Secondary Programming and Learning Opportunities

Condition 2: Enhance Secondary Programming and Learning Opportunities

The first citing under-utilization of two schools at or below the 65% level is because the Board has cooked the boundaries and feeder distributions to produce that result.

They have done this, says Muir because the 1800 + empty seats in the seven high schools are the result of what the Board did back in 2009 to fill the new high school they convinced themselves was needed for neighbours close to Dundas Street and the homes being built in the newly created Alton Village.

Muir maintains the Board didn’t explain this to “the public or parents”.  He adds that the PAR should have held the Bord accountable for that failure because the under-utilization of the existing six schools was part of what the Board knew was going to happen. The Board knew that surplus seats would be produced.” Muir adds “that was known, and part and parcel of the plan, at the time that the Hayden school was being planned.”

They made a deal with the Ministry, claims Muir, to at least partly fund new seats at Hayden by a “future disposition of surplus assets” which would be school properties – which they later identified as Central and Pearson high schools. “This is what they are trying to do now” said Muir.

The overall utilization is 75 to 80%. The new seats in Hayden are at 118 to 150 % – over-utilization of 214 to 604 seats.

miller-stuart-online

Stuart Miller during a Q&A that was webcast by the school board.

According to the Directors Preliminary report, this will only get worse with growth, infill, and other development that is presently assigned to the Hayden boundaries and feeder distribution. These distributions are part of the recipe used to cook the result the Board wants.

In addition, the Board’s population and pupil yield models are projecting enrollment that is too low. The Board knows this but it still using a an enrollment model that produces bad projections. This happened when they did projections in the Alton Village, and this is known, but are still being used.

Muir believes this can be fixed. He suggests a “reshuffle of the city-wide boundaries and feeders can keep all schools above 65%, and move the average utilization toward the 75 to 80% level.

Muir opines that this is not what the Board wants. Not only that, but they are using the cooked books to show only the part of the feasible options that favor what they want, which is closures.

“I would add that the path the Board is on leads to another key logical implication, not yet in people’s consciousness, which is due to the overflowing utilization, portables, and over-directing of new pupils to Hayden” said Muir.

He adds: ” In time, with no boundary and feeder changes to balance things, the stated continued growth there, and actual population and pupil yields that have been over the Board estimates used, there will be another over-utilization based demand for another school. It’s a clear consequence of not changing how the utilization is managed and balanced.

central-high-school

Central high school is the oldest in the city – and needs a lot of repair work. Parents ask why that upgrading work was not done during the past 10 years.

Director of Education Stuart Miller responds with: It doesn’t matter where we put the boundaries or how we organize the feeder schools – none of these is going to produce students to fill those 1800 empty seats.  And the Ministry of Education is not going to give the Halton District School Board any money to pay for maintaining those seats.

It appears however that funds will be available to do all the work that will come about should the Trustees decide to approve the closing of schools.

There is some hard number crunching to be done to determine just how much it is going to cost to close schools and what is really involved financially long term to keep them open.

Condition 2: Enhance Secondary Programming and Learning Opportunities
The second condition cited in the Directors report to the trustees was that reorganization involving the school or group of schools could enhance program delivery and learning opportunities for students.

“Director Miller repetitively says, and told me personally, that this PAR is only about the students and what is good for them.”

Miller prep at Central

Director of Education Stuart Miller preparing for a public meeting at Central high school.

“I have asked Director Miller, the Board, Trustees, and the PARC for a detailed accounting of how much money will be saved, how many new courses will be offered, what will the courses be, how will the courses benefits the students, to how many new students, at what schools, and so on, in a detailed accounting.

“This information has never been provided and doesn’t seem to be in the offing.

Muir wants to know how if no such information is provided can the PAR condition be met.

“Also, maybe people don’t know, but the Board doesn’t have to spend the savings from closures, or other measures, on providing these additional classes and opportunities.”

Before we make such decisions based on assumptions, the PARC and Trustees should be asking for the information I asked for, and for Board and Director assurances that this will be delivered.

Muir maintains “this cooking of data and misinformation by the Board was started and done to get Hayden opened. They are doing it in order to smokescreen the options toward the closures they want and that were agreed to with the Ministry in 2009.

This means that all feasible options, of which there are many, are not being explored and explained.

All management and cost-benefit data and information is not being provided.

Muir argues that “the Board has no credibility and cannot be trusted.  He told the PARC and the Trustees at the start of this PAR process, “that this is what the Board staff will do to them, and that if they tolerate it, they will be led down the garden path, which is what is happening. The Director is not their friend. The Board are not their allies.”

HDSB Parents at PARC 1 Jan 26-17

Parents listening to the proceedings of the PARC

Muir believes that the only thing that will save all their schools is solidarity. “You have to pull together. You have to demand the information you want and need to meet the PAR conditions and as many criteria as you set to meet yourself.

At bottom, the only power, and this is the real trump card of the Trustees, is that they have the power of the law.
No matter what anyone says or does, Board or Director, Ministry, the Trustees decide with their votes what will actually done.

four-trustees

Four of the eleven Halton District school board trustees listening to the presentation given by Board Staff early in December.

The Trustees are the law.

Muir pleads that PARC members not “waste this power fighting among each other, because you are all at risk, either now or in the not too distant future.”

Muir believes all the misleading misinformation, and the way the system talks in code, and partial truth is at the root of the problem the community faces. “Remember” advises Muir,” every partial truth is the beginning of a new lie.”

Option 19 - catchment areas

Catchment boundaries are complex – the PAR committee was faced with 30 options to deal with. The prime concern for many was the lack of a high school that would serve the families in the downtown core. Aldershot on the left appears to have the balance needed – in the east end of the city Nelson and Bateman have catchments that overlap – which raised the question: Should either Bateman or Nelson be closed?

Tom Muir is not the easiest man to get along with. He is direct, being polite is not his objective. Facts looked at logically will produce results that can be lived with is where he comes from.

Several months ago when Muir was delegating at city council, when Council wanted to reduce delegation time from 10 minutes to five he said:

“I would hope that Council votes in favor of the 10 minutes unanimously, as a show of good faith. I will say that a vote to reduce to 5 minutes is something I see as an insult to citizens and their possible contribution to what we do as a city – our city.”

“Further, if Councillors still want to vote down the 10 minutes, I say this. If you are so tired of and frustrated by, listening to the views of the people that elected you, then maybe you have been doing this job too long and should quit. I mean that, and will not forget how this vote goes tonight. “

“This Council is not your Council; it is the people’s Council.

“And these Council Chambers are not your Chambers, but are equally, the people’s Chambers. All the Councillors and Councils hold these offices and chambers in trust. A vote to reduce the people’s time to speak in these chambers is to fail in that trust.”

City council kept delegations at the 10 minute level.

The Halton District School Board exists to serve the needs and desires of the public not the wishes of the Director of Education and senior staff.

Bateman - crowd scene

Muir thinks quiet, polite demonstrations (the Burlington model) are not the answer. Demanding accurate data on a timely basis so that people can make informed decisions is the only way parents are going to be heard is Muir’s advice.

When the closure of high schools in the city became a public issue Muir had some advice for the parents that were going to be impacted.

“If parents don’t let their outrage loose, and in mass numbers demand answers to their key questions, on a schedule parents set, to the Board, and the Trustees, and your Councillor and Mayor, and right now, immediately, then the trip down the garden path will continue.

“Parents have to self-organize and go to war for what they want. Sheep are for slaughter. They are the big bad wolf.

“If parents don’t do this, then give up, because they will just put you down slowly, on their schedule, with their information driving the bus your kids are on.

“Don’t kid yourself, and don’t go quietly.”

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6 comments to Some tough talk on what parents and the PARC representing them have to do if high school closures are to be prevented.

  • Andrew

    Hi Tom. Tremendous note.

    Question; how many trustees per city?

    My concern is that Miller controls the information/data and would seem to have the deck stacked, with the Trustees. I believe only 4 in Burlington, out of 11? I assume HDSB just needs a majority to carry Miller’s recommendation.

    Also, one more question, who is Stuart accountable to? Who is his boss? I don’t mean the trustees, but financially.

    Editors note: Miller is hired by the Board, paid by the board and has a contract with the Board . The Board can choose to end his contract. Each municipality has a pre-determined number of trustees based on population. There are 11 trustees. A simple majority carries

  • I'm alright now

    As Andrew has identified it here is another key and fundamental flaw to municipal elections. These four trustees are answerable only to Burlington voters in their respective wards. They can all vote to do nothing and yet the trustees from Milton, Halton Hills and Oakville will be able to carry the blame and shiv for the Burlington Schools. Well played Mr. Miller.
    Trustees and councils voted for at large would make much more sense. Too complicated, perhaps? Pardon me just forget it.

  • Stephen White

    If, as Mr. Muir suggests, the school boundaries could be adjusted in such a way that no school closings would ensue and utilization rates would vary from 75 – 80%, then why wouldn’t the Board and Stuart Miller seriously consider doing this?

    My biggest fear with all these school closings, aside from the impact on quality of education, is this: demographics change, and the way things are today is not the way things will be ten, fifteen or twenty years out. If, for example, Central is closed, and down the road there is an influx of new residents with children into Ward 2 thanks to our Mayor’s brilliant intensification strategy, where do all the kids go to school? North Burlington? Or does the Board then purchase old properties, level it, and then build another new school at an enormous cost to ratepayers?

    I am not as informed on this issue as Mr. Muir but he raises some excellent questions that are deserving of more than perfunctory answers from the Board. Personally, I don’t care if Mr. Muir is perceived by some as “acerbic” or impolite, or not easy to get along with. Frankly, I’d sooner have someone like him as a Board of Education trustee than the pathetic collection of sycophants whose vacillation is only exceeded by their silence.

    • Tom Muir

      Stephen White

      I don’t care much to comment on myself, but this is an exception.

      I accept the label of possibly “acerbic” – it was suggested by Joan Little in one of her columns in the Spectator..

      But in fact, I didn’t know what it meant, so I had to look it up. A couple of meanings I found;

      1. “used to describe something that is spoken or written in a way that is direct, clever, and cruel”;
      2.”(especially of a comment or style of speaking) sharp and forthright”;
      3.”expressing harsh or sharp criticism in a clever way”

      I can accept this characterization by a columnist and former Burlington Councilor, such as Joan. So I told Pepper I was okay with it.

      Sometimes, some people might say this is not polite, but that’s not my purpose in being that way. That’s sort of how Pepper said it.

      But I don’t accept that I’m not easy to get along with. Just don’t try to BS me when the issues and discussion are of a serious nature, like this school closures matter, and the deceptive breach of trust that constitutes how the HDSB is dealing with it.

  • Teri

    Tom-you have all the answers to every situation. Why don’t you run for public office?

    • Tom Muir

      Teri,

      Elected public office for Council and above takes time, and demands a schedule that I can no longer offer. I have too many things to do.

      And make no mistake, getting newly elected and defeating an incumbent are demanding tasks.

      On my own time I can try to help with advice and comment, and to perhaps get someone I think worthy elected, but I’m past my due date I think on trying to get myself elected and then serving.

      But thanks for the kind words.