Sunday, August 30, 2009

An idea

This percolated to the top of the thought stream today as I was writing a post here and also reading comments on several other posts.
The Community Schools Alliance has asked Minister of Education Kathleen Wynne to implement a 'smart' moratorium on disputed school closures until a new school-closure policy more accommodating of municipal and community concerns is put in place.
The minister, rightfully, told the CSA the moratorium was a pipe dream. She distributed the draft policy, which was the subject of an earlier post and is also posted over on GoogleDocs.
Yet the complaint lingers that the current petition and review process doesn't allow for reconsideration of a trustee decision, or any ability to have that decision overturned by the Ministry of Education or some other provincial appellate body. Those with deep pockets might still get somewhere with a hearing before the courts, however that hasn't proven to be any more successful at reversing disputed decisions.
The revised provincial guidelines (earlier posts here and here, new guidelines here) and draft policy seem to give a firm nudge to those boards doing a less-than-stellar job at working with community partners to start doing so. They also nudge boards to consider community input differently than was the case -- ie: how the committee recommendations are presented to trustees.
So this version of these documents may not go the distance in laying out a more consultative process in black and white, but the better boards out there will find a way to do this even without specific direction from the MinEd. One would hope it's a step towards that for the boards that don't do this well.
So we're back to the 'no appeal' complaint.
Here's my biggest problem with the CSA demand for an appeal mechanism, which I've touched on briefly in a previous post. Every disputed trustee vote to close a school -- and if you think about it, that would be virtually all closure votes -- would be bumped up to this provincial-level appellate body. What happens then?
Does the appellate body overturn the trustee decision and keep the school(s) open?
Does it magically solve the funding/program/facility/enrolment challenges that led to the school review in the first place?
What can it do that doesn't effectively wipe out a locally elected board of trustees' ability to do its own accommodation planning and place that power in provincial or quasi-provincial hands? Advocates complain district boards have become too regional to understand and act on local concerns-- could you imagine the province being the de facto decision-maker on all school accommodation issues? That would be a monumental loss of local decision making power. Something to ruminate over, which I was doing until this thought: There are plenty of other examples in legal, quasi-judicial and similar situations where the appellate or reviewing body orders a re-examination of the original question by the first decision-making body. IE: The Court of Appeal ordering a retrial. The Ontario Municipal Board asking a municipality to review its decision on a matter that's come before the board. Etc.
Why can't this ability be part of the administrative review of a school-closure vote? In addition to reviewing whether the process was compliant with ministry and board policies, the facilitator could also order the board of trustees to review its decision, passing a second resolution that either supported or changed the initial vote.
There would have to be boundaries-- short time lines, quicker reviews by facilitators, etc. or by the time the issue made it back before trustees, the next steps would be too far along. You'd hate to have a second vote on a school closure when the new facility being built to house the students involved is already under construction. You'd also want to limit the debate (perhaps to one meeting?), or you'd spend months re-hashing and re-arguing every point that should have been made during the initial accommodation review.
Just a nugget to ponder and enjoy as the blog is about to go on hiatus.


Anonymous said...

One reason why I think an appeals process may be necessary is that mistakes get made, sometimes trustees made wrong decisions based on either incomplete information or dated information.

We had a local example a few years back of just how wrongheaded a motion for closure was re: one of our elementary schools. In the end the community and parents were simply better prepared and supported in their fight than the trustees were. Halfway through the process back then it came up that many of the same trustees who voted to close the school had never laid eyes or visited the school they were voting to close.

I continue to read about how accurate numbers and enrollment figures are.

I do agree with you that those boards and school communities who have been tuned in will get through the new process ok. Those who haven't will, and are struggling.