March 19th, 2017
Tom Muir’s bottom line is that “the Board is cooking the books”.
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.
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.
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.”
“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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.”