The PAR committee needs to find its voice this week and require the Board of Education to treat them more professionally.

highschoolsBy Pepper Parr

March 20th, 2017

BURLINGTON, ON

 

With Spring Break over and most of the snow melted away the citizens of the city can begin to look for warm sunny days – and fret about just what is going to happen to the city’s high schools.

PARC audience Jan 27

Public attendance was good – not huge but those attending paid very close attention.

While many parents were out of the city the Board staff were working towards the last two PARC meetings that will take place later this week; one on Tuesday and a second one on Thursday. The Board would love the PARC to arrive at a consensus – the best this PARC is going to be able to do is go for the option that doesn’t close any of the high schools or choose to close Bateman if it is absolutely necessary to get the number of empty seats down.

This PARC has been less than satisfying to the parents and most of the participants. The process followed is a new one issued by the Ministry of Education (MOE) and it has some, (many?) bumps to be dealt with.

The 14 PARC participants have had a tough time getting a grip on the process and at the same time having to deal with a Board that has not delivered anywhere near enough in the way of data and information.

Podrebarac and Ridge

PARC Chair Scott Podrebarac on the left with city manager James Ridge on the right. Ridge had very little to say – the public was never told what his mandate was other than to occupy the seat allocated to the city.

The PARC was given nothing in the way of historical background and the reasons why the city now has seven high schools with 1800 + seats that are empty and one high school that is close to 150% of it rated capacity.

They were given a template to use as they made decisions on the various options that were put in front of them.  That template asked them to consider, but not be limited to the following:

  1. Range of mandatory programs;
  2. Range of optional programs;
  3. Viability of Program – number of students required to offer and maintain program in an educationally sound and fiscally responsible way;
  4. Physical and environmental state of existing schools;
  5. Proximity to other schools (non-bus distances, natural boundaries, walking routes);
  6. Accommodation of students in permanent school facilities and minimal use of portable classrooms;
  7. Balance of overall enrolment in each school in the area to maximize student access to programs, resources, and extra-curricular opportunities and avoid over and underutilization of buildings;
  8. Expansion and placement of new ministry or board programs;
  9. Stable, long-term boundaries to avoid frequent boundary changes;
  10. Cost effectiveness of transportation;
  11. Fiscal responsibilities;
  12. Existing and potential community uses and facility partnerships;
  13. Goals and focus of the current multi-year

It would take a single edition of the Gazette to pick apart the 13 points in the framework – transportation is one of the better examples.  Every time the question as to the cost of busing and the impact busing would have on the students was brought up everyone from the Director on own was told to “don’t go there” it is far too complex.

The issue that is almost as important as what students learn in the classrooms is how we get them there got shoved to the sidelines because it was too complex.

The Board has deliberately obfuscated on a number of occasions and has kept the PARC away from issues that are critical to finding an acceptable solution that is fiscally prudent, take into consideration the importance of community and strives to give the students the best possible educational advantage. Not an easy thing to achieve but there are some very smart committed people on the PARC. They deserved more respect from the Board than they have been given.

The PARC people had to learn new acronyms that the Board uses daily.

Principals table

The principals or their proxy were on standby during most of the PARC meetings – they acquitted themselves very well. Not one of them stumbled.

The PARC members had to listen to data that was wrong the first time it was given to them and wrong the second time as well.

Parent groups from the high schools most at risk – Central and Pearson to begin with then Bateman and Nelson at a later date.

The public never got the sense that they were really involved. Meetings were held at which the public as not encouraged or given a chance to ask questions.

The five high schools that were not named as possible closure took a pretty relaxed attitude early in the process – when it became evident that Nelson and Bateman were being given a look at for possible closure they got active quickly.

The result was a turf war between the different high schools rather than an open co-operative and collaborative approach to resolving a serious problems.

Gerry Cullen

Superintendent of Facilities Gerry Cullen gave a report in which he explained what was wrong with the data they were being given – that was the extent of it – other than to say that was what the Board was working with.

During all this the elected trustees chose to be mute. They didn’t want to “influence the process”.

The four Burlington trustees were on hand for every meeting – the others popped in on occasion. The city now faces a situation where all four of its trustees could vote not to close any of the high schools but the other seven trustees (there is a total of 11) could vote to close two of the high schools and that is what would be done.

What the PAR committee has to do is:

Remind themselves that while they were brought together to WHAT that they need to do is look at the bigger picture and determine in their minds what is best overall for the state of the high schools in the city.

PARC the Aldershot delegates

PARC committee members from Ward 1 and 2 talking over what was taking place. Both were very direct with the chair.

Each PARC member needs to ask themselves why they are there: To fight for the existence of the school they represent or to be involved in a committee that looks at the available data and if it is insufficient then demand that the Board provide factual data.

The constantly updating data on the part of the Board is unprofessional and unacceptable and the PARC needs to tell the Board as much.

The PARC members need to demand that they have some direct input into the report that goes to the Director of Education. They should also demand that they be given the time and the resources to critique the report the Director gives the trustees March 29th.

Demand that the Board not rush the PARC – these 14 people have full time jobs that require time – as volunteers their time needs to be respected. The PARC should not be made slaves to a time line the board created.

Packed room - New Street Mar 7-17

Somewhere in this crowd are a number of Board of Education Superintendents explaining as best they can what the preferred school closing option is and why it makes sense. Many of the parents weren’t buying it.

The PARC has yet to find its voice – hopefully the Spring Break will have given everyone some time to catch their breath and provide the city with the service each one is capable of giving.

There is a lot more riding on this decision than most people realize.

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