Friday, September 25, 2009

Postponement in Simcoe County

Catching up to a few things today, including a series of developments on the northwest Simcoe County accommodation review and the Simcoe County District School Board's decision on the outcome for five high schools.
Readers here will be familiar with this review, involving schools in Midland, Penetanguishene, Elmvale, Stayner and Collingwood. Earlier this week, SCDSB voted to postpone any further consideration on any of the recommendations from either the review committee (it recommended a status quo, have your cake and eat it too solution) or its senior staff members.
The happiness may be only temporary. Trustees can revisit the issue in the future.
(trustee Brad) Saunders said the matter may be best dealt with by the next board of trustees, which will be elected next year.
"Given our division on this issue, it's the only way to go," he said.
Trustee (Donna) Armstrong disagreed.
"Postponing indefinitely is like putting our heads in the sand," she said, adding the decision does nothing to achieve much-needed renovations at EDHS (Elmvale), which is aging and overcrowded.
In the meantime, Tony Guergis and Anita Dubeau, the mayors of Springwater Township and Penetanguishene respectively, both said the decision gives their municipalities the chance to show that they are growth communities, and that their high schools should stay open.
One of the biggest stumbling blocks last night behind closing any high schools was the lack of provincial funding to build new ones.
Trustees have tried to point their finger at the province, blaming it for not making funding available to the board for either solution. I find these statements do more to show the failure of the board's staff members and trustees to dot their i's and cross their t's on their own capital planning documents. There are other boards in the province that have managed tens of millions in capital construction projects coming out of their first round of reviews (or not even) and SCDSB's cry of poverty lets it off the hook way too easily.
As to Guergis and Dubeau? Pardon the vernacular, but if it hasn't already been at several points in the past two years, now it's time for these mayors (and the others) to piss or get off the pot. Talk about what your municipalities can do and can show is cheap. Open your wallets and come to the board with genuine offers for partnership that will improve the physical spaces your community's students are learning in and meet your objectives. If this is a 'smart' moratorium on the closure of several schools as Guergis was requesting in his executive role on the Community Schools Alliance, now he's gotten one. What's he actually going to do with it?
The Examiner followed up its coverage with an editorial Friday, flawed in showing its writer(s) couldn't see past the dollars at play here.
Because the lack of provincial funding seems to be the over-riding reason why there's been, at least, a stay of execution for high schools in Elmvale, Midland, Penetanguishene, Collingwood and Stayner.
And after numerous meetings, this ARC recommended last May a five-school option to keep all five schools open -- including a replacement school in Elmvale.
But school board staff instead presented a three-school solution: keeping CCI and MSS open and building a new high school in either Elmvale or Wasaga Beach.
It was this action which trustees have decided to postpone indefinitely.
This isn't necessarily a victory for those opposed to school closures. It's just a battle won, not the war.
Trustees will eventually have to make a decision on these schools, although there are already indications that it might be the next board of trustees, not this one (there are municipal elections in 2010).
The problem with school closures is that trustees seem to look at the issue with dollar signs in mind. They have a budget to meet, as deficits are forbidden.
But students and parents look at it from an emotional point of view. They don't want to lose their school. Students get displaced, relationships are affected, not only with other students, but with teachers, as well.

Again, the Examiner is simply joining the board in looking for an easy scapegoat. It does ask, later in the editorial, why there doesn't appear to be funding available. If it scratched the surface, it might be able to answer that question. Passing off trustees' inability to pull the trigger and fire off any decision in this review as due to a lack of money shirks them of the responsibility they have to all of their high school students in northwest Simcoe County. A responsibility to have those students learning in the best possible spaces in the best possible places.
The next board of trustees will be no better prepared to settle this question than this group is. However maybe, just maybe, they won't be afraid to make that decision.


Anonymous said...

You raise great points ER. I have to wonder who is REALLY making the decisions in this board. Clearly it can't be the trustees.

I wonder if trustees realize what this does to their profile/image in their community for the long term.

Making tough decisions is necessary.

Maybe the process just went on much too long and contributed to this happening?

It really is a kick in the teeth for boards of elected trustees actually doing what they were elected to do.

How many more like this I wonder?

I do wonder though about the amount of funding the gov't offers for the building of new schools. It could very well be that the new school they envisioned just can't be bought with what the gov't allocates, and maybe municipalities
can't fathom going to that same taxpayer again?

Education Reporter said...

There appear to be a few flaws in the process. The statement by some trustees implies they're not ready to make this decision until there's unanimity. Majority votes are a fact of democracy-- some times you win, some times you're in the minority. Such is life.
Waiting for unanimity on an issue as divisive as a school closure is near impossible. Just as there were those who supported closure(s), there were those who supported status quo -- or the status-quo-plus of no closures with millions in capital spending.

The capital liquidity template is key to how the ministry assigns dollars for new construction in school boards. It's through this exercise boards make the case for growth-related expansion (new school or addition) as well as consolidation-related construction (be it new school or expansion/improvement). I have much to learn about this process, so I won't comment any more here. However, if the SCDSB isn't seeing the $$ other boards are, I would suggest it's a flaw in its capital liquidity template, which is odd given capital that HAS flowed for the Lion's Oval school in Orillia and the elementary review in Barrie.

Perhaps RetDir, if he was still active when the capital liquidity template entered its latest incarnation, could offer more insight.


Anonymous said...

What I'd like to know is how much of "the plan" of a board hinges on that Capital Plan because it seems to me that in most cases that Capital Plan is also the eventual destination of the accommodation reviews?

If the school community is brought on board and educated as to what the board's Capital Plan is then the ride through the new accommodation review process could be pointless, IF the board is working toward that Plan?

Maybe RetDir would fill us in here also?

Anonymous said...

In thinking about your post ER and the responses here it seems to me that if school communities get involved and educate themselves with the Capital Planning process and the board offers school communities through their school councils, staff etc. opportunities to respond and/or build that Capital Plan it makes the
accommodation review process seem redundant?

Of course the new review process does draw out the public notification and input where the Capital process may not, but in my community the board invited everyone to submit comment to the Capital Plan when it was filed.

The board then had recorded, written commitment from the communities that they understood the direction the board was taking with respect to Capital planning.

In our case our school councils had to be prodded and coaxed by a trustee to accept the board's invitation to input the plan, so unless councils are aware that their input to planning the future like this is not to be passed up they miss getting in on the ground floor of things.

Education Reporter said...

I would call into play the NIMBY factor. People don't give a rat's patootie about a district-wide capital plan or a single accommodation review when and until it touches them personally.

As someone with nothing at stake in the reviews I've covered for the paper (and written about here) that has been obvious to me time and time again. No one (well, OK, not no one, but the vast majority) pays attention until someone tells them how it impacts on them.