Trustee Collard now begins the hard part - making the Board decision to close two schools actaully work for her constituency.

News 100 yellowBy Pepper Parr

July 12, 2017

BURLINGTON, ON

 

The decision to close two of Burlington’s seven high schools took place just over a month ago.

Parents with children at the two schools, Lester B. Pearson and Bateman, are still recovering from the shock of the 10-1 vote that closed Bateman and the 8-3 vote that closed Pearson.

The single vote against closing Bateman was cast by trustee Amy Collard who fought valiantly for a different decision. Many are still stunned with the way things worked out.

Amy Collard HDSB trustee

Amy Collard the night that four parents showed up for the public meeting that was held to explain just what the Program Accommodation Review was all about.

Collard was devastated and still does not understand why her fellow trustees could not see the merit in the ideas she put forward.

She felt there was merit in keeping Bateman open and making it part of an arrangement that would have Bateman and Nelson linked as one school with two properties.

Collard saw this as providing a better service for the students from both schools and an opportunity to not spend the $12 million that would be needed to upgrade Nelson for the influx of Bateman students.

Collard’s task now, as she explains, is to ensure that the transition serves the students at Bateman – her job for the balance of this term of office is to hold the Board administration accountable at every possible level.

Bateman parents are fortunate to have a trustee that will go to the lengths Collard has on their behalf. While she was personally devastated with the decision – Collard has accepted it and now wants to get on with the job of serving the Bateman parents and their children.

There was a time when Collard thought she might take a shot at running for the ward 5 seat on city council, currently held by Paul Sharman, “I have abandoned that idea” said Collard. There is work to be done to ensure that the students at Bateman are cared for properly when they are forced to move to Nelson in 2020.

Collard and Miller

Amy Collard the evening it became clear to her that she had the fight of her life on her hands to persuade the Director of Education and her fellow trustees that Bateman could be kept open and should be kept open.

For Collard, the ward trustee, the task is to ensure that the Board lives up to the promises that were made and that the transition benefits the Bateman students.

Not many knew how complex the programs are at Bateman for the disadvantaged and how vital those programs are to the parents. The impact the move is going to have on those parents is hard for most people to fully appreciate. The Board staffer who explained that “it is just a program and programs can be moved” just isn’t aware of what the Community Pathways Program means to hundreds of families.

An issue that no one really wants to talk about but that is critical to the success of any merger of Bateman into Nelson is the environment at Nelson.

Nelson mascot Mar 7-17

Nelson high school has always seen itself as the school to beat. Cocky, confident and with great school spirit.

The early comments on social media about some of the Bateman students were rude, crude and totally unacceptable. Nelson’s culture is significantly different than that of Bateman. It is going to take a principal with a remarkable skill set to oversee the merger and Nelson parents prepared to ensure that the school and their children adapt.

Done poorly this merger could become a disaster.

The Community Placement Program is made up to a large degree of students who need special attention and care. Bateman had a total of 42 Educational Assistants (EA’s) to work with those emotionally disadvantaged students.

The day before our interview with Collard she attended the Bateman graduation ceremony that included a child who is severely disadvantaged from a family that has more than its share of challenges.

The child and her mother were one of the delegations. It was painful to watch the child in a wheelchair struggle to control her body movements – she spoke in short outbursts that was close to impossible to understand. The pride in Collard’s voice when she said the student who graduated wanted to be a writer was palpable.

And why not Stephen Hawking tells us what he has to say from his wheelchair.

Kelly Amos

Halton District School Board chair Kelly Amos.

Collard has served as Chair of the Board of trustees for at least one year.  She ran for that position again this year but was defeated.  She is not seen as a popular person by her colleagues – she doesn’t do the social stuff – for her being a trustee is important and she tends to take the work more seriously than the others.

That is not to suggest that the other trustees are all slackers. There are some promising newcomers; there are others that shouldn’t even be in the room and there are some that have served for some time and served well.

The Gazette does not include Oakville trustee Kelly Amos, the current chair among the latter.

A group of Bateman parents have filed a request for an Administrative Review of Board’s decision to close their schools.

The Pearson high school parents filed their report earlier this month. A copy of the report was published by the Gazette.

When asked if she was involved in the preparing of the Administrative Review request Collard explained that as a trustee she believed her job was to support the decisions made by the Board; not exactly the approach one would expect from a person who worked so hard for a different decision.

Trustees - Sams - Reynolds - Collard

Amy Collard, on the right, is persistent and at times insistent – the probes and makes it clear that she expects informed answers to her questions.

Collard is serving her second term as the trustee for Ward 5 – she was acclaimed in both the 2010 and the 2014 elections.

She views her role through several lenses – ensuring that the promises made by Board staff are met; working with the parents to ensure that their grievances and concerns are addressed and then working with her fellow trustees to do some of the healing she feels needs to take place.

During the lengthy- nine months – process there were very few who spoke publicly for the closure of any schools. There were two – perhaps three people who spoke for the closure of Bateman; one a delegation made by a Central parent who said that keeping Central open and closing Bateman served the best interest of the city.  That was perhaps one of the most gratuitous comments heard during the whole process.

Collard AmyCollard is not popular amongst the other trustees. Being a trustee is not a popularity contest; Collard believes the trustees are there to ask hard questions and to hold the Director and his staff accountable.

One seldom hears tough questions from the other trustees – few come forward with well thought out suggestions. Photo ops are part of the job, visiting schools and being treated with dignity and respect is part of the job.

What the public seldom sees is a trustee asking – Why? They tend to take their cue from the Director of Education and for the most part have failed to understand that the public put them in place to hold that Director accountable for what he and his staff do.

During the nine month period that the PAR process was taking place the trustees chose to say very little. Most said they were collecting data and listening carefully to everything that was being said.

At the same time these same trustees spent well over an hour closely reviewing plans for a new high school that was to be built in Milton. They concerned themselves with the width of hallways, where windows would be placed – the only thing they didn’t do was try to choose the colour of the paint for the walls.

It would have been wonderful to see these same trustees take as detailed an interest in what was about to be done to Bateman, one of the most effective high school operations in the city.

Bateman parents have reported that some of the trustees did not even visit Bateman during the tours that were arranged for them. The Gazette had asked if they could take part in those tours – we were told that taking part would not be appropriate. We would have had an opportunity to see just who did show up.

While not all trustees will agree that their board is a fractured one with policies and procedures that have not served the public well, Collard thinks there is a need for some healing and an opportunity to work together in a setting that is more collegial and informal than a board room.

A retreat would be an excellent idea – the trick is going to be to get everyone to agree to attend and then to have a trained facilitator in the room to draw out the differences and moderate the discussion. Done properly it could be the smartest thing this Board of trustees does.

School board matters get relatively little media attention. Their meetings often run long – very long. They meet more frequently than Burlington’s city council and oversee a much, much larger budget.

The eleven woman who sit on the Board have been known to take part in meetings that have run into 1:00 am in the morning.

Voting by hand

Trustees voting by hand when the vote recording system had been shut down.

During the final debate on the school closing the meeting went past midnight which was when the system that records the votes electronically went off line – the trustees had to hold up their hands to vote.  Time management is a trustee issue that needs to be dealt with.

What the Board of trustees needs most is a clearer sense of purpose and mission. Despite some very impressive evidence and dozens of shortcomings in the Program Administration Review process none of the trustees questioned the process – they chose to remain mute and refusing to get involved until all the evidence was in.

But when the evidence was in – and there was a lot of it – the public saw nothing in the way of trustees asking hard questions and setting out their views on the process that in its final stage required them to make a decision.

They did have the option of directing the board staff to look at the problem in more depth and comeback with detailed recommendations in specific areas.

This is whar classrooms across the Region are going to look like Friday morning. Hopefully it will be bitterly cold while the teachers tramp up and down the side walk outside.

This is whar classrooms across the Region are going to look like Friday morning. Hopefully it will be bitterly cold while the teachers tramp up and down the side walk outside.

What was never made crystal clear was just how many empty high school classroom seats are there?

What was possible in the way of boundary changes to take the pressure of Hayden high school that is well above capacity which would have given Pearson a better chance at staying open?

And would the trustees explain why they voted for a decision that is going to require a $12 million spend to replicate at Nelson high school what already exists at Bateman?

Board staff said what they build will be better – for $12 million one would certainly hope so.

Trustees are elected to represent the interests of their constituents – other than Collard and to a lesser degree Grebenc, it was a dismal demonstration of elected officials serving their public.

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7 comments to Trustee Collard now begins the hard part – making the Board decision to close two schools actaully work for her constituency.

  • George

    Amy Collard did an outstanding job of representing the wishes of the R. Bateman high school students, parents and interested parties.

    Too bad LB Pearson did not have such a dedicated trustee to represent it.

    It appeared the HDSB Trustees were under the “Rasputin like” influence of the Director of Education who effectively took control of the June 7, 2017 HDSB Trustees meeting from an incompetent and ineffective chairperson. Once the Director had control of the meeting he and his superintendents effectively filibustered and delegated at the meeting which was intended to provide for an impartial vote.

    Shame on the Director and the majority of the HDSB Trustees for bringing such a conflict into Burlington.

    Perhaps the disappointed population of Burlington will now research the issues, and choose more wisely whom they elect in the next election including municipal, regional (HDSB) and provincial legislators all who have been obstructive and the cause of the stress in this once admired and cohesive community.

  • Hans

    Re: “What was never made crystal clear was just how many empty high school classroom seats are there?”…. Subtracted from that “empty seats” number should be the number of seats in the Board’s trailer park at Hayden (and elsewhere?) because the paramount accommodation constraint objective should be something like >=85% utilization with NO moldy portables anywhere. After that goal has been met, the effect of the additional students from the new Sundial development (northwest corner of Dundas St. and Walker’s Line) and other residential growth should be further deducted from the “empty seats” number.

  • Stephen White

    “When asked if she was involved in the preparing of the Administrative Review request Collard explained that as a trustee she believed her job was to support the decisions made by the Board; not exactly the approach one would expect from a person who worked so hard for a different decision.”

    This is precisely the kind of feckless leadership Burlington needs to get rid of in the October 2018 election. Collard was silent throughout the PARC process. When attention shifted from closing Central to closing Bateman and Pearson she was caught unawares. She had no support from fellow trustees to keep Bateman open, which suggests that either she didn’t lobby very hard on behalf of keeping Bateman open, or else she just decided to “let the chips fall where they may”. Now, parents at Bateman and Pearson have applied for Administrative Review, and she says she doesn’t believe this is her job to help them.

    It’s nice that Ms. Collard sympathizes on behalf of parents at Bateman with special needs children, and nice that she attends graduation ceremonies. However, what I think parents at Bateman are really looking for is a strong advocate, some who will support them in their fight….not someone who sits on the fence.

  • Tom Muir

    Collard is just doing what the trustee code of conduct tells her to do.

    “6. UPHOLDING DECISIONS
    Trustees shall:
    1. Be bound by the decisions of the Board;
    2. Uphold the implementation of any Board resolution after it is passed by the Board;
    3. Be prepared to explain the rationale for any decision passed by the Board. A Trustee may respectfully state their position on a resolution provided it does not in any way undermine the implementation of the resolution;
    4. Monitor the decisions and direction of the board in accordance with the Education Act and applicable law;”

    I kept close track of the whole process of this PAR, and wrote this experience down in detail, much appearing in the Gazette, and this is about the only section of this Code that the trustees have honored.

    They are just following orders.

    The process orchestrated by Miller was rotten to the core. I have lots of evidence of that, but when actual integrity and accountability, not just the words, are absent, that’s what we get.

    Electing a new bunch won’t change it.

  • Sharon

    First of all Amy Collard is the only Trustee that did what her constituency asked. Amy listened to us and fought hard. We at Bateman are grateful and very proud of her. I am happy to hear she has not decided to run for City Council we will need her in the coming years to make sure the the transistion is as smooth as it is going to be, and to make sure Miller and his cronies stay to their word.
    Second of all Mr. Pepper our special need students are NOT disadvantaged. They have the same opportunities as every other student has at Bateman. Yes they have to work harder to reach their accomplishments but by no means are they disadvantaged.

  • Will

    Stephen White – you are wrong. there is no other way to say that. you have not understood that the trustees were only able to watch during the review. we have no idea what happened behind the scenes at least with some trustees. to assume that Collard did not lobby is ridiculous. if a business was having to deal with a legal issue would it be right for one of the company directors to help those on the other side? No. This is the same here. Collard cannot be a part and help legally. from what ive seen she was the only one fighting for those vulnerable kids.

  • Sharon

    I agree Will. The delegations that were from Bateman fell on deaf ears. My only hope that Milton, Oakville and Halton Hillls and the rest of Burlington were paying attention. Changes have to be made October 2018. Not just at the HDSB but with our so called MMP too.