Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Another nail in Alliance coffin? (Amended)

This had slipped from my consciousness last week, even after covering the meeting at the Thames Valley District School Board where director of education Bill Tucker spoke about his and London District Catholic School Board dir of ed Wilma de Rond's appearance before a City of London council committee. An article in this week's Londoner refreshed my memory. I'll note the London Free Press didn't cover the committee meeting.
Some may remember Community Schools Alliance chair Doug Reycraft was also meant to speak at this Feb. 8 committee meeting. I've got some of my own quotes from Tucker on this that I'll add later today from the office.
Bill Tucker, director of education for the Thames Valley board, said there has to be an alternative to the process that is currently in place. "Closing schools is never an easy decision, but there has to be a better process and we don't believe the Smart Moratorium is the way to go."
When asked by Ward 2 Councillor Bill Armstrong if he would stop closing schools while a new process could be developed in place of the Smart Moratorium, Mr. Tucker's response was simply, "No, but we can slow it down."
Mr. Tucker says at present his board is losing 1,000 students per year as a result of declining enrolment, resulting in a significant amount of space in schools that has to be maintained, but not used.
Wilma DeRond, director of education for the Catholic board echoed similar concerns. "Right now we are losing the equivalent of small elementary school each year (as a result of declining enrolment) and we see that trend continuing for five years."
Mrs. DeRond also expressed her concern over Controller Gord Hume's proposed wording of a motion that would include improved communication with affected communities, reviewing provincial policies, and gaining input from those communities on any school closure.
"Our board will be very upset with this. They may not appreciate being told what to do," Mrs. DeRond says. "We may choose to not participate in the process." 
The committee ultimately voted against supporting the smart moratorium so cherished by the Alliance, but passed a motion encouraging more dialogue and joint, constructive sharing of information between the boards and local municipalities. So the largest municipality, closest to the core of the Alliance's founding person and founding county, took a pass on the requested smart moratorium, in recognition it's really not that smart.
From the TVDSB meeting the following night, where Tucker acknowledged the conversation was "at times challenging."
We countered that we believe there's a better process to gain the community's input at the outset… the committee supported our assertion. We will seek to acquire input through the municipal representatives then.

I'm pleased with the results. We're in favour of wanting to change some aspects and also working more closely with city hall.
London trustee and vice-chair Joyce Bennett, who was chairing the Feb. 9 meeting, noted Tucker's work with city administration was to be commended. 
The partnership the director has been building was very meaningful… working with the municipality so people can plan for municipal involvement at an earlier stage.
Though it wasn't directly mentioned, Tucker has shown a willingness to do the same with other municipalities within the district. He attended a Middlesex County council meeting in the summer and also had spoken to a rural Oxford council last year in the midst of a school-closure review there. 
So what's next, Community Schools Alliance? With stated support from only about 1/4 of all Ontario municipalities, a new minister and a municipal and trustee election ahead, what's your next step?