Monday, August 10, 2009

Moira agrees with Community Schools Alliance, sort of

A frequent tipster forwarded this along today, Moira MacDonald's column published Monday regarding the Toronto District School Board's pending accommodation review challenges.
The column is largely about the board's pending review regarding the vote to close Timothy Eaton Business and Technical Institute earlier this year. A Ministry of Education reviewer has been appointed to conduct the review after the petition to do so was approved by the powers that be.
MacDonald points out these reviewers (she lists David Cooke and Margaret Wilson, missing Joan Greene) make a wad of cash every day they're on the job.
This was the most interesting part of her column:
Nevertheless the education ministry continues to approve the reviews, as long as someone is able to gather enough signatures of parents or community people who participated in the closure discussions, to equal at least 30 per cent of the school's enrolment.
They also have to show how the process used was not compliant with the board's policy.
If not a single case has been successful, sounds to me like either the fix is in or the vetting process for review applications needs tightening up. If this is supposed to be an exercise to allay people's concerns they haven't had a fair hearing, why get their hopes up and waste taxpayers' money on a process unlikely to validate their complaint? (bold my emphasis) Why not create a tougher standard, and give those who manage to make it over the bar a fighting chance of actually overturning what could indeed be a poorly-made decision?
But the other problem is these reviews risk bogging down the entire exercise of getting our school space down to a manageable size.
Having seen three or four of these reviews in the district I cover -- including one petition that was turned down -- Moira's tapped into the overwhelming sentiment on the usefulness of this process. That futility was an important part of the formation of the Community Schools Alliance, which as readers here know is requesting a 'smart' moratorium on closures. One of the reasons why such a request exists is to devise a better appeal mechanism, one that actually includes the possibility of overturning a school board's decision.
I'm of two minds on this one-- communities do feel as though their opinions and recommendations aren't being given serious consideration by trustees. How often is that actually the case, and how often is it a matter of trustees and school boards doing a piss-poor job of explaining why they made the school-closure decision they did? Conscientious trustees surely must have solid rationale for why they supported a closure decision and I think they're doing a crappy job explaining why. If they don't, then they need to be explaining why as well so they can be held to account in November 2010.
I also understand why the petition/appeal process doesn't include the ability to overturn a board decision. This government, while creating policy and procedure that increasingly centralizes K-12 education out of the Bay Street government block, doesn't want to be seen as removing this particular decision from 'local' control. If every closure could be overturned on appeal, then every one would be appealed by someone disgruntled with the decision and the appeal body (province) would end up making the final decision. How does that respect local decision making? It doesn't.
I don't have the answer to what the better process post-board-vote process is, but would welcome any suggestions.


Anonymous said...

I agree with you ER. The process as is also moves trustees further away from the discussion in those boards who have administrative staff running and facilitating the ARCs.

In those cases there is a feel among the ARCs of being led toward an already determined course of action by the board.

The Sun column really hits on that.

If boards have such great relationships with their school communities why are we even going through the sham of a provincial process? Shouldn't an effective board or trustees be able to approach each and every school council or Parent Involvement Committee and simply lay it on the line, get input and really listen to what their community is saying?

Anonymous said...

This comment will be seen as inflammatory, but why should school boards have to consult at all about school closures? They have the best information about where enrolment is declining, and the overall status of their infrastructure. They should have to consult on what the end result will be, but not on what they close. The fact that they have the best information about their infrastructure is the reason their staffs are accused of having made decisions in advance - or course they have. Of course they have. Community consultation almost always only results in blind defense of the indefensible. Let's stop the consultation charade now, make decisions that make the best sense in terms of scarce resource allocation, and be done with it.

Anonymous said...

Sounds great Anon 15:38...You know, why do we need to waste time and public funds electing trustees? Let's have school board administration call all the shots. Like you said, they've got all the facts and figures. They've come up with the best plan for my local public school. They'd like to close it, even though attendance is at full capacity and it is very well used by the entire community for sports events, service club meetings, blood donor clinics, etc. and they'd like to bus some of the students to one town to fill empty desks and send the rest to another community to fill those empty seats. I think it's the best use of my tax dollar and I know you think so too. In fact, I'm going to suggest to all of my neighbours and the mayor that we follow your brilliant plan and not bother participating in a review.

Anonymous said...

Anon 15:38 "Community consultation almost always only results in the blind defense of the indefensible"

Beauty statement!

If trustees were informated and educated enough by those they employ I'd agree with you, but sometimes even the trustees haven't got the information available to them to make the wisest of decisions.

If the trustees in my board had made the horrible decision to close the school they were advised to close last round, we wouldn't be having an addition added to that school today. Fact was the community pulled together and turned the trustees decision around because they were not nearly informed enough.

AND, we did it without the help of the provincial guidelines.

Anonymous said...

Anon. 15:38 - you are assuming that all trustees enjoy having all of the pertinent information at their disposal?