High school parents failed to do what needed to be done - give the school board trustees crystal clear instructions - do not close any of the schools.

SwP thumbnail graphicBy Pepper Parr

June 26th, 2017



Everyone is blaming the eleven trustees for the decision they made to close two of Burlington’s seven high schools.

Trustees - fill board +

The trustees needed a clear signal from the parents – they didn’t get one.

All they did was their job. The signals they got from parents were pure self-interest. Central fought like crazy to get their name off the close list. They did that by organizing and putting facts on the table.

Lester B. Pearson put very solid facts on the table – they had the best of the arguments to not lose their school.

School closing banner

The Board staff did everything they could to tell parents that changes were in the wind.

The Bateman parents at first paid no attention whatsoever about the school closing issue – they saw themselves as safe and did nothing.

When they realized they weren’t safe at all – that they were at serious risk they had to scramble to get their story out. It was a very solid story – few people outside Bateman knew how successful a school Bateman really is. The closing of that school is going to be very disruptive for families that have had more than their share of disruption.

The trustees were faced with a situation where the Board made a recommendation, then changed that recommendation and then proceeded to hold several meetings that left few parents happy with the way things were going.

Bateman - crowd scene with Bull

It was too little too late – Bateman parents who deserved better treatment got caught up in a turf war they didn’t see coming. Many of the students at the school will suffer because of their individual circumstances. It didn’t need to happen this way.

What was clear during the Program Accommodation Review (PAR) process was that no one really wanted to see a school closed. It took a bit of time for the PAR committee to coalesce as a group and when they did it was evident that they had within them the capacity to come up with some innovative ideas. They needed more time.

One Gazette commentator pointed out that the city spent more time on deciding what to do with the Freeman Station than the school board allowed for the parents to have a meaningful input on the school closing decision.

When city hall made the wrong decision citizens moved in and got it right – on our sesquicentennial next Saturday you will be able to tour a really well preserved Freeman train station that served this city well. Citizens inevitably make the right decision – they just need some leadership.

The PAR committee learned, much to their surprise, that what they understood innovation to mean was not what the parents meant. What we saw was the size of the divide between a protected part of the economy (school board staff) and the private sector that has to earn its bread every day.

Option 7 - short

Option # 7 don’t close any of the high schools.

Option 19 short

Option 19 – the Staff recommendation,

Option 28 - shortWhat turned out not to be possible for the PAR committee to do was to settle on just the one recommendation and that was to not close any schools and to change some of the school boundaries.

It was there for them to choose – #7.

But instead the different communities chose to protect their own turf and do whatever they could to save their school.

Imagine – just imagine if the PAR had settled on the one option – # 7 and then said to the trustees – don’t you dare close any schools until this issue has been thoroughly reviewed and the community agrees on what is best for the whole community.

Dine lbp

Delegations argued their individual school case and in doing so lost an opportunity to put a collective case in front of the trustees and direct them to listen to the parents.

And imagine if every one of the 50+ delegations had said the same thing – don’t you dare close any of these schools.  Direct the staff to do a better job of coming up with a better solution.

Had the PAR committee and the delegations done what they could have done – do you think the trustees would have voted the way they did?

And had the community pulled together the way they could have we would not have the rancour and really bad feelings between the parents at one school feeling as aggrieved as they have a right to feel.

The matter of those 1800 empty seats is a concern – the world is not going to come to an end if many of those seats remain empty for a while. The 1800 number isn’t apparently the real number – it is somewhat less but it is an issue that needs serious attention.

The trustees had little choice – they didn’t fail – the parents failed. What the trustees got was a set of very mixed messages – close theirs but don’t close mine. Some argue that the Board of Education set things up so just this would happen. I don’t believe they did – but if they did – did we have to follow that direction?

All you had to do was say No! Every one of you – just say No!  That didn’t happen and the trustees went to the safest corner they could find – the wishes of the staff.  One Burlington trustee who campaigned on no school closures went along with her colleagues and voted to let Bateman high school close.

The upside, and it is small, is that trustees get chosen again in just over a year and maybe someone will find a way to get something on the agenda that takes a second look at the decision made June 7th, 2017.

The properties are not going to be sold to developers for years – if they are sold at all. Right now the plan is to close them and that is a decision we have to live with because we let it happen.

Those who buy into the belief that Burlington is the best mid-sized city in the country are probably the same people who claim downtown Burlington is vibrant.

We are really better people than this.

Work together, work for each other and make the place the city that has more than a wonderful waterfront and a magnificent escarpment going for it.

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12 comments to High school parents failed to do what needed to be done – give the school board trustees crystal clear instructions – do not close any of the schools.

  • Will

    I dont think your tax dollars will change in education cause the province decides where the money goes. we just send it to them. city hall wont give you a tax break. taxpayer dollars are provincial ones. school boards have to ask for money back. the only savings is the school board but when you look at it does this really save them money?

  • Tom Muir

    In fact, about 90% of the costs of all schools in Burlington comes from the province, and this is not on the property tax.

    Admittedly, it’s all taxpayer money, but most isn’t coming direct from our pockets. The 10% we pay, by a real estimate by Steve Armstrong, is $2.20 – not enough for a latte at Starbucks. Get serious.

    It is the truth, and not a lie, that we will pay dearly, on many accounts, and the kids directly, if this swindle is allowed to stand.

  • James Smith

    It’s not adding a few dollars more per ratepayer; the issue are the big lies of:
    “Doing more with less”
    “Keeping Taxes at 0% increase”
    “tax increases fixed to inflation
    Baked-in contractural increases (Teachers, Administration, Police) make the $22 increase a moving target. So the increase is likely a multiple of $22.
    Next, get a buy-in from the majority of folks paying for the increase.
    Due to demographics and Boomer greed; good luck with that.

  • Stephen White

    Well, I personally would opt to pay $22 more per year to keep all the high schools in Burlington open.

    Hell… we can waste $216K on a useless New Street Road Diet, and $14 million for an ugly pier to which we can’t even dock boats. $22 per household would be a small price to pay to maintain schools, preserve unique programs, avoid busing, and maintain neighbourhood schools. As Tom has suggested though, there is some “puppet mastery” going on behind the scenes.

  • James Smith

    What if the question were turned around? What if one asked: How much more in property tax would you spend to keep ALL of these schools open? I suspect that most of us who pay far less than our parents & grand parents did in taxes, would answer “LESS THAN I PAY NOW!”

    • LBP Alumni

      James, forgive me if I have your perspective wrong but I would imagine you’re turning the question around because you think you’re going to be paying less tax in the future by having two schools closed…have you considered that for what little tax savings there could be and the marginal effect on your taxes is wiped out by the likelihood of greater expense in the future from overcrowded schools in the north?? Is this mess really about the people saving money on property taxes?

    • Steve Armstrong

      I did do the math, and confirmed the results through City Hall.

      The answer is about $22/year …. and that’s assuming we keep the total burden within Burlington!

      Yes, for very little real cost the focus of this entire process could have been on rebalancing enrolments and MAXIMIZING student and community outcomes.

      But, this isn’t how the schools are financed anymore.

    • Steve Atkinson

      James, respectfully I would comment that if you think HDSB is worried about your tax dollars, over $30 million was spent on Hayden now over-capacity, and $12 million on Bateman which is closing. To which the superintendent replied ” $12 million isn’t really a lot of money”. Add the closing costs and upgrades to Nelson to replicate what already exists at Bateman. Add the bussing. And then check the sunshine list for the salaries of these money-managers that made these decisions. More than $ 22 a year I promise you. That is why we have tried to hold them accountable for this decision. We will be paying for this travesty in dollars and lost opportunities for years to come.

  • Steve Atkinson

    The headline that parents failed is a bit misleading, as we LBP parents asked trustees face-to-face and in writing, repeatedly to vote option 7 no closures, including at meetings that the Gazette attended. The response was silence from the trustees. No feedback, no engagement. Rather the PARC could not reach consensus and it had a local politician as well as parents. Parents did not fail, they were scrambling to catch up. The PAR was flawed, the process failed. If the Trustees succeeded, exactly what did they succeed at? Dividing our community? Putting students first?

    Maybe the other wards did not want option 7 / no closures, I can only speak for myself.

    Editor’s note: You are missing the point – some did ask for option 7- the point was – what if everyone had done so? Citizens allowed themselves to be split – remember – it is the citizen through the power of the ballot who calls all the shots. The biggest disappointment from our perspective is that no one from the community came forward to really lead – everyone hunkered down and fought for they turf.

  • Diane Miller

    It saddens me to read this article. Yes, a lot of people went into preservation mode – I think that is instinct. But several of us, wrote, emailed, called and picked the no school closure option on the survey, and made this known to trustees, Eleanor McMahon, Mitzie Hunter, Premier Wynne. It wasn’t just about one school closing but saving all Burlington schools through creative solutions.

    While I know that wasn’t true of everyone, I will not fault them for trying to save their child’s school. I have a child at both Bateman and LBP. They both will see their schools close.

    Time and time again some of us argued for boundary change with many in our LBP committee providing data/graphs/options not just for LBP but other schools.

    You are presuming that the community just saying no would have influenced the trustees vs. the numerous delegates; heart-felt stories; almost impact like witness statements shared; logic; facts; creative ideas; 3 city councillors writing letters against closure; etc. This board was determined to close two schools. They did what they set out to do even managing to get not one but two trustees who ran on platforms of no schools closures to do just that – close schools.

    Facts didn’t matter. Students didn’t matter. What the community did or did not want didn’t matter. Collaboration didn’t matter. Equity didn’t matter (or Aldershot would not be left in status quo mode; Central not fully resolved; Hayden still over-crowded). Creativity didn’t matter. Accountability didn’t matter.

    Closing schools – a 2 for 1 deal mattered.

  • Andrew

    Self preservation is a strong impulse. I believe if there was more time to reflect, that is what would have happened. Consensus..that is where it was going. But the Board controlled the process and timeline.

    • Tom Muir

      Yes, Andrew, the Board controlled the process and the timeline. They put some schools in the arena to fight it out, which set the scene as one of battle.

      Then they changed the possibilities for the arena, and the combatants, which obviously inflamed and roiled things until the very end.

      The parents did not have a chance, and the Board made sure of that step by step.

      Regarding the 1800 empty seats, the Board deftly evaded their proven guilt for having planned and built almost all of them as surplus from the start in Hayden.

      It was a evidence based part of their plan in 2009 to close the seats in other schools.

      The Gazette might not believe the Board manipulated and set this up to happen, but the evidence of the data of the plans, and their actions throughout the PAR, certainly indicate some such puppet mastery.

      Again, the parents did not have much of a chance. Boards of education have been doing this sort of thing for decades.

      They know exactly how to do what they did. Formidable.