Thursday, August 27, 2009

Quick August hits

Been busy with a project I've been chipping away at all summer, a sneak peek of which was posted today. However, a few things that have caught the eye in the past 48, all somewhat related:

Whose assets are your assets?
A Strathroy-Caradoc radio station had this piece about Adelaide-Metcalfe pols musing about being 'repayed' for the value of what they invested in Metcalfe Central, pegged for closure.
The township of Adelaide-Metcalfe feels they should be reimbursed these things once the school is officially sold. Milligan said the township sent a letter to the board over one month ago with no reply or return of an answer yet. Just last week Milligan said the provinces Minister of Education Kathleen Wynne said she was in support of both relocating the towns cenotaph and reimbursing tax payers for their contribution to the building, adding a gymnasium to the school.
I struggle with these sorts of conversations. Public body 'x' spends money from the taxpayer to build asset 'a.' Public body 'y' chips in some of its own taxpayer dollars to help cover a portion of the cost of asset 'a.' Who 'owns' the asset? I see this in municipal politics as well, much too often (over a beverage I'll spin a tale about water and sewer pipes that sounds exactly like this one).
The easiest answer I've been able to come up with?
The public owns the asset until it's sold to a private-sector owner.

More on relationships
This one posted by the Welland Tribune Wednesday, regarding the District School Board of Niagara's dir of ed speaking about co-operative relationships with the local municipality.
Historically speaking, Hoshizaki said the need for such partnerships wasn’t as prominent because more funding for education was readily available.
By partnering up and assisting one another, “there’s less cost but the community is gaining more,” he said.
He said partnerships between the board and the community are going to be “a big theme in the region.”
DSBN will also be working closely with community members come October when it begins conducting an accommodation review of five east Welland schools — Mathews Public School, Crowland Central School, Empire Public School, Plymouth Public School and Prince Elizabeth Public School.
This almost runs counter to the one above-- although the DSBN hasn't controversially closed a school in Welland (yet?) that I'm aware of. A refreshing take, however, given Niagara-on-the-Lake's pending dance with the board at the Ontario Municipal Board over a new elementary school in that municipality.

It added to this London Free Press piece posted and published Wednesday on Thames Valley District School Board dir of ed Bill Tucker's appearance before Middlesex County council, also speaking about communication and partnerships. This is a council that birthed the Community Schools Alliance due to its discontent with TVDSB trustee decisions, so understandably the reception was frosty. To his credit, this is not the first time Tucker has stepped into a municipal line of fire and attended a council meeting in a municipality where the pols were against the board's intentions.
the dialogue won't necessarily keep small or half-empty schools open, education director Bill Tucker said during a Middlesex County meeting.
... County politicians have been pushing for a process that would force boards to include them as partners in talks about rural-school closings.
Tucker offered up a compromise: "I believe there's an opportunity where we can sit down and work together toward both those goals" of program equity and fewer surplus classroom spaces.
But when asked if those partnerships might stave off school closings, he told councillors more than once he wouldn't make any promises and that ultimately the decision is an educational one. Tucker offered that senior administrators would meet with community members and politicians before accommodation review committees convene.
"I think as a group we need to move forward. I think the days are gone when we have competing interests," Tucker said, noting they share the same taxpayer base.
Interesting comments and discussion reflected in the rest of the article, given the radio piece at the top of this post.

Buy it
Closing the loop here, Nathan Taylor and Teviah Moro at the Orillia Packet & Times co-wrote a cross-beat article on the city buying three surplus school properties.
“It’s good news for the city because the city is short of parcels of land,” said Orillia trustee Debra Edwards. “And it’s win-win to have the city purchase these sites at fair-market value.”
Mayor Ron Stevens expressed similar thoughts after hearing about the city’s successful offer last night.
“That’s great. We now own them and we have care and control of what happens to them.”
Stevens noted Mount Slaven (earlier in the piece you'll see it sold for $600K) is slated to continue taking students from Harriet Todd Public School for a while, but said that’s not a problem from the city’s perspective.


Anonymous said...

I can understand the request for reimbursement.

Municipal residents, or 'taxpayers', are also members of service groups and parent groups who do a lot of fund-raising to support their local schools, purchasing flagpoles, playground equipment and a variety of assets which automatically become property of the school board ( at least this is the case within Thames Valley). Local residents make financial contributions to these fund-raising efforts, as well as offer financial support through extra-curricular use of the buildings. Everyone benefits while the school remains open. When it is closed and sold, all proceeds go to the school board, who then redirects the proceeds and some assets to other locales - other municipalities. Local residents are losing these facilities, these 'investments', due to school board decisions. Also, I believe it was the municipalities - local residents - who, 'back in the day', built most of the schools up for closure.

Let's consider the negative social and economic impact faced by ALL of the residents, of communities who lose their schools.

Education Reporter said...

I think you've missed my ultimate point.

A public asset is a public asset until it goes into private hands.

Who signed the cheque and paid the invoices doesn't take anything away from the fact it came out of a taxpayer's pocket.
Should Metcalfe ultimately be sold to a private-sector buyer, then I think there is a strong case for reimbursement to the public -- although one must be careful, since some new construction and expansion project budgets depend on the proceeds from these very sales to balance the budget. In that type of situation, the public has gained if the value of the property has risen, and maintains a link through the expanded and modernized schools the community students now attend. Essentially, the public hasn't lost the value of its initial investment.

In other words, it was our money 50 years ago when the building was raised from the ground and it's still our money today.

Of course, the simplest way around this whole condundrum would be for the township or the county to pony up a bid for the property-- after all, it gets second/third right of refusal. Reg. 444/98 is quite clear on how that might happen and even provides a formula for determining a value below any 'fair market' value. Or, as someone suggested to me recently, a 'drive-by' assessment could be done at a value amenable to both parties.

Of course, it's always easier to lob potshots from the sidelines, quibble over who owns what and form alliances than pony up cash that would make a difference.


Anonymous said...

I understand that it is 'our' money today, as it was 50 years ago. I guess I'm referring to the diversion of proceeds and benefits away from local residents, who have spent far more than their tax dollars to financially support their school - taking for granted that it would always be there for their direct benefit. A decision to close a school and deem it surplus suddenly forces the municipality, who is funded by taxpayers, to bid on property that we the public or 'taxpayers' already own! Perhaps seeking reimbursement from the Ministry is a means of diverting some of those funds back.

And, when a board votes to close a school where there is a dispute, where a team of public representatives has spent a year on an ARC relying on substantial data and public input formulating recommendations not to close a school, has the public really given consent to 'sell" (or buy it AGAIN, as the case may be)?

An active dialogue between the school board and the affected municipality should take place before any formation of an ARC, to determine future steps - possible partnerships or SHARED responsibility of the day to day operations of the facility as a public site. Could an ARC not debate the merit of the results of that dialogue? Step 7 of Capital Planning as posted on the Ministry of Education's website over four years ago states, "The BOARD should actively seek partnership opportunities...". I'm not sure school boards have been trying to save schools before seeking to close them.

Anonymous said...

Anon. 2:34
"an active dialogue between the school board and the affected municipality should take place before any formation of the ARC..."

I agree with that statement. In fact that opportunity does (or should exist) when the board finalizes its 10 Year Capital Plan. Boards were directed to share those plans with their "partners". I recall that clearly.

Boards were also to bring that plan to the school councils, WHICH are suppose to have a community representative on board.

In one of my local board's case they did as directed and canvassed councils for feedback. When the councils failed to respond one of our trustees almost had to prompt responses from them. For some reason the request to councils got lost in transaction in the school hierarchy.

Boards should have by now set time aside each year to meet with elected municipal leaders.

Something else that I've encountered locally, is a real lack of written history of our schools. With no archivist on staff at the museum and no room for the board to keep it, finding the stuff was like going on a treasure hunt...and what I found was minimal for understanding that
the community did own the school at one time.

The trick it to respect the history so that any changes or closures don't threaten the community connection to the school.

Effective leadership would ensure that that happen.