Saturday, March 13, 2010

London's piece fall into place

The skeptic in me sees some solace in the move Friday by London city Coun. Bill Armstrong, in terms of placing his earlier windmaking into some sort of perspective. The Free Press posted the story late Friday for Saturday's paper.
Readers here would remember Armstrong ruffled some feathers and stirred up some dust in January for refusing to participate in a Thames Valley District School Board school-closure review for the Argyle / east London area of the city. At the time he said he wanted no part in the review as he believes none of the schools included in the review should have been pegged for closure.
He held a press conference with MPP Rosario Marchese (NDP-Trinity--Spadina) and MP Irene Mathyssen (NDP-London--Fanshawe) to slam the board and speak about how the pending (he says) sale of a hospital site that will (he says) be redeveloped into housing. He claims thousands of housing units will be built on the hospital land, netting 635 new elementary students. All of which will happen overnight of course, as the magic fairy dust settles on the hospital lands and instantly creates all those houses filled with school-aged children, created out of thin air...
From this new article, filed by John Miner:
Armstrong said he knows school board trustees never read the city's report on the area. School board officials could not be reached by the Free Press for comment Friday night.
"Obviously there is a disconnect between the school board and the city," Armstrong said. He was also miffed the board refused to let him hold his press conference and meeting with parents at the school, or even hand out notices of the meeting.
He told a handful of parents at the press conference he intends to persuade the board to change its recommendation for the school.
"This is a battle we intend to win," Armstrong said.
I have some issues with this article, as it allows Marchese and Armstrong to make some whopping nose-stretching claims. Deficits aren't driving school closures, Rosario. Declining enrolment and facility conditions are. Keeping in mind his own riding, I'm sure there are some kudos coming to Rosario given the Toronto board's own accommodation issues.
Hey, Coun. Armstrong-- is there really a disconnect between the school board and the city? Whose fault is that, really?
Let's review.
In August, the city receives the resolution from the Community Schools Alliance, calling for a 'smart' moratorium on disputed school closures. It eventually fobs it off to a committee for further review.
In November, school board trustees receive their annual accommodation report, confirming the desire to begin a new review of four schools in Argyle / east London area (item 14.b on the agenda), given the demographics of the schools, their neighbourhoods and catchment areas. This review had actually been given the OK to proceed by an advisory committee in January of 2008-- a committee which at the time included City of London councillors. The November recommendation from staff members is to close Churchill and through boundary review accommodate students at existing, vacant space in three other area schools.
In January, the city council committee finally gets around to considering the alliance request-- this is the time the city is also being asked for reps for the accommodation reviews about to get underway, and when Armstrong has his first snit.
In February, directors of education from both local boards come to the city committee meeting and explain to those present why a 'smart' moratorium isn't smart at all. Council later would vote to endorse the alliance request, and then also calls on both school boards to revise their review policies to be more accommodating to local and municipal input. Well, they are, but the city had missed that part, given it was refusing to participate in many of these reviews and absent in situations where it might have been able to bring some options to the table.
Coun. Bud Polhill will actually sit on this particular review Armstrong is all steamed up about, which hopefully will show Armstrong when someone joins the process and can bring something to the table, it might change end results. One, perhaps naively given the obvious political end Armstrong is gunning for, would hope Polhill could bring the report Armstrong references to the committee's attention. That there would also be an opportunity for dialogue when the board's demographer presents student projections for the area-- wouldn't it be apropos if the city's demographer came that night? Armstrong assumes the decision is made because trustees have supported the recommendations from staff in other reviews (though I'll note staff recommendations have changed as a result of ARC processes). He could read the reasons behind the disbandment of the Ross/Thames high school review, but that really doesn't fit with his political mantra that the Churchill closure is a done deal that he needs to battle in order to ply enough tick marks on ballots this Oct. 25.
The review will hold its organizational meeting this month, and actually won't be complete until well into the new term of office for the next city council and board of trustees.
Disconnect? Yeah, I'd say. It's hard to connect when the person you're reaching out to has turned their back to you and is running away to hold press conferences with opposition politicians to score political points.
I'll write it again-- those who refuse to get dirt under their fingernails but want to sit on the sidelines and direct the construction of the sand castle should realize they might not get their way. Kudos to the board for not granting him the ability to use the school for his own political ends-- if he really wanted to contribute he could have volunteered to sit on the committee and then he'd get to yell and scream from inside the school on meeting nights, at least.
Let's see what Polhill (whose daughter is a trustee, I might add) brings to the conversation that review committee will be having over the next year. As for Armstrong?


Anonymous said...

Correct me if I'm wrong ER but isn't Marchese's NDP behind the Community Schools Alliance? That's what the rumour is.

Also the minute Armstrong share's the public spotlight with politicians this becomes less about doing what's best for students and the community and all about politics.

Anonymous said...

I am disturbed by the uninformed comments in, and already posted on this article.
The NDP is behind the Community Schools Alliance? That is probably news to Alliance Chair Doug Reycroft a former LIBERAL MPP or Alliance Board member Cam Jackson, a former Conservative MPP! The Community Schools Alliance is made up of community people and politicians of ALL political stripes.
Further, school closures and what is best for the community and students IS a POLITICAL ISSUE!!! The politicians involved were the area's MP and the Education Critic for the Ontario NDP, who it would seem should have an interest in what happens with this--even if they don't have direct jurisdiction over the fate of these schools.
I did attend yesterday's meeting, Hugo did not, so before jumping to conclusions based on someone else's reporting, maybe you should get facts and information from people who were actually there. Councillor Armstrong never claimed 600+ new students would be looking for spots tomorrow, what he did say was 3-5 years out, we are going to need those spaces.
Hugo also misses the mark BIG TIME on deficits affecting school closures. Again, check some facts before making opinion statements sir. Declining enrollment? Churchill is over 70% full and enrollment was UP this year.
If you aspire to be one of the best education reporters in Canada, you have A LONG WAY TO GO! Facts, not opinion, make good journalism.

Anonymous said...

Anon. 15:46

Unlike you though Hugo doesn't hide behind an "anonymous" posting.

I actually agree with everything he writes.

Which side of the crybabies do you support?

The city council from hell, or the politico. It's certainly not the students or communities so I'm guessing council from hell with an NDP leaning?

No secret at all that Reycroft the the NDP's People for Education are tied at the hip.

So how are you liking the new Minister of Education so far, hmmm?


Education Reporter said...

Anon 13 March 15:46:
You're right, I wasn't there. I was earning income elsewhere while the Free Press sent a health reporter to do an education reporter's job.

Take a poke around this blog-- it's built, in large part, on coverage of school issues in other media.

Your comment is written as though you just don't agree with the post-- and hey, that's OK. I'm not going to cry myself to sleep at night because you don't like what you've read here.

As to your facts-- Armstrong may have said 600+ students in three-to-five years. It does nothing to change my point. Developers will tell you anything they need to in order to get you do believe their claims. Thousands of homes in three to five years? Gimme a break. How many approved developments and plans of subdivisions already exist in London (or anywhere else in this region) where a shovel has yet to hit the ground because of lack of interest? Further, we continue to have this misperception of homes equalling school-aged children. Unless every person (couple, really) who buys a housing unit in this supposed new development already has a child (really, two or three) before they move in, you're not going to see a stable population of students out of there for about six to 10 years. And that stable population won't be as high as the current one-- because of a whole host of demographic reasons.

Declining enrolment is a fact. If you don't want to believe it that's your prerogative. It exists, it affects every school board across Ontario save some of those around the GTA. Enrolment grew at Churchill this year? Congrats. By what? 10 kids? 5? 15? Well, you'd need far more than that, today (not in three to five years, or six to 10) to make up for the vacant spaces already there. Unless we start a serious baby boom in this region of Ontario, declining enrolment will continue to be a fact. Oh, and when it rebounds, it will be a smaller boom than the baby boom echo. So, more children than today, but fewer children than the peak in births of the mid 1990s.

On the deficit question, I should have been clearer.
If you don't accept declining enrolment, then you don't accept that it causes deficits. When you don't have the bums in seats, then you're taking money away from programs to heat the building and all those empty chairs. A former superintendent and director of education (Londoner to his death) had a great way of summarizing it-- the pot of money is fixed and shrinking. You either use it to support programs or you use it to support bricks and mortar.

Good journalism, opinion and analysis aren't just the things you agree with.


Anonymous said...

Well written ER! You've hit on a couple of points I was going to raise but did it much better.

I find it almost laughable that municipal leaders in more places than just London are now jumping on the bandwagon re: not wanting to be part of the ARC process, yet are the first to cry foul when no invited to the table.

The other day in our paper a municipal representative in talking about how our municipal daycare, because of fewer kids was not just in deficit but cutting programs, actually turned to the media to ask for help to attract parents(and their kids) to the programs being cut. It seemed like the fellow had no concept of what was happening in his own community with a comment like that.

Fewer and fewer kids is a factor. Add to that a major unemployment situation, a school closure and municipalities will be hit in many, many ways that municipal reps. should be willing to partner with trustees on.