'I can do something about that' didn't make it to the PARC meetings; a failure in leadership.

SwP thumbnail graphicBy Pepper Parr

January 4th, 2018



In the not too distant future Burlingtonians will learn what the provincially appointed Administration Review facilitator Margaret Wilson has to say about the Program Accommodation Review process that was used to close two of Burlington’s seven high schools.

How did this city get to this messy place?

The Gazette believes a large part of the reason was Marianne Meed Ward’s failure to lead.

How did a natural leader fail to lead when it really mattered?

SaveOurWaterfront- Meed ward

Meed Ward is a very astute politician – she chooses and issue and sticks with it asking people not just to vote for her but to trust her telling people: “I can do something about that”.

I have watched Marianne Meed Ward develop as a politician since 2010. I sat in on a few of her early 2010 election campaign meetings. I was given an opportunity to be part of the team that was going to run her election.


Marianne Meed Ward delegating as a citizen – before she had been elected to city Council.

I have watched Meed Ward appear before council as a citizen delegate; she was tireless, deliberate, focused and consistent.

When she was elected I watched her begin the process of bringing city council around to a better way of operating. Her colleagues did not make it easy.

During the period of time after a car accident that resulted in a concussion that Meed Ward was not fully aware of, I watched her struggle through a city council meeting and then drove her home – it wasn’t that she couldn’t walk – she knew she shouldn’t.

That same evening all the members of city council were being entertained for a holiday event at the home of a Council member whose application for a property severance had been denied by the Committee of adjustment. The decision was appealed to the OMB at considerable cost to the city.

Meed Ward said she had not been invited to the event.

Visual - city council full

Councillor Meed Ward has always wanted what council does to be on the record. She makes her colleagues stand up and be counted – and they don’t like it one bit.

I vividly recall watching Meed Ward put her colleagues through five recorded votes at a city Council meeting. The Councillor closest to her philosophically, John Taylor, sat there rolling his eyeballs. Meed Ward wasn’t budging one inch; she wanted those Councillors to be on the record.

I watched Meed Ward mature as a politician. She has been described by some as divisive – and to some degree she was – but not to the majority of the people in her ward. They believed she could walk on water.

Meed Ward held frequent ward meetings. I recall one during which she blurted out that she “loved her job” and she did.

During her first few months in office she got a call from a constituent about some garbage on the street – Meed Ward drove out with her van and picked up the garbage.

During her first six months as a city Councillor the City Clerk had to point out to her that she had used up her postage budget. She used up much of her coffee and donuts budget well before the end of the fiscal year. Her job was to send out information and meet with people, which she did.

Often, whenever ward 1 Councillor Marianne Meed Ward appears at events with the Mayor she sounds more "mayoral" than the man who wears the chain of office.

Ward 2 Councillor Meed Ward has had her eye on the job of Mayor from the day she filed her first set of nominations papers. The public should get a chance to decide if she is what the city needs next October.

She told her colleagues that that they should be paying for their parking – and that city staff should pay for their parking as well. Council didn’t agree with her – that didn’t faze Meed Ward – she said she was going to remit to the city the value of the free parking she was getting.

During the first election in 2010 Meed Ward had made it clear that she wanted at some point to be the Mayor.
She decided in 2014 that her children needed her at home and so she ran again in ward 2 and was handily re-elected.

With the 2018 municipal election in October expect to see Meed Ward running against the current Mayor.

The Gazette doesn’t agree with everything Meed Ward does but she is much, much closer to what a politician people in Burlington want to see representing them.

Meed WArd at PARC

Ward 2 city Councillor and Central high school parent Marianne Meed Ward at a school board PARC meeting.

Which gets me to the point of all this: Where were those leadership skills when it came to Meed Ward’s service as a member of the Program Accommodation Review Committee (PARC)?

That group of fourteen people was desperate for some leadership. Meed Ward could have given the group a strong sense of what needed to be done.

What went wrong?

PARC with options on the walls

PARC members deliberating with options on the walls

The members of the PARC certainly knew who she was. There was some concern expressed over a member of city council taking part in a Board of Education matter.

The Gazette didn’t have a problem with Mead Ward taking on the assignment. The Central high school parents asked her to represent them and given that she had a child attending the school she qualified.

We believed that Meed Ward knew the difference between the two roles she was playing. She was doing what the Mayor should have done. Mayor Goldring took the weasel position of sending his city manager to the PARC – James Ridge displayed a significant lack of knowledge when he said the school board should not sell any school property. Once a property is declared surplus the Boards of Education are required to sell property.

It was pretty clear by the second formal PARC meeting that they were stumbling. While the Board of Education Superintendent who was tasked with running the PARC had a lot of rules that he imposed those 14 people were bound by any of them. They had no input in the creation of the rules and began to realize that they were being manipulated.

To this day I don’t understand why someone: Steve Cussens , Steve Armstrong, Lisa Bull or Cheryl De Lugt – anyone, didn’t invite everyone over for a BBQ and have a frank and open discussion. The opportunity was there – they didn’t take it.

Central and MM question at PARC Feb 9

PARC members ranking the various school closing options that were put in front of them.

Without the leadership that was needed the best the 14 PARC representatives could do was protect the school they were representing.

The chance to take the high road was missed. They ended up hurling invectives at each other. The Bateman people panicked when they saw their school as marked for closure and claimed the Central parents had thrown them under the bus.

Whatever opportunity there was for a consensus was lost; the people power Meed Ward talks about wasn’t seen at any of the PARC meetings.

There is a phrase that Meed Ward uses when she talks about why she got into public service: “What inspired me to seek public office in the first place – “I can do something about that!” And she certainly does something as a city Councillor.

She just didn’t follow that direction as a PARC member.

There was from the very beginning an option that would have solved the immediate problem; options was #7 – do nothing, don’t close any of the high schools. The option wasn’t worded all that well and had a bit of a battle to remain on the list.

Some PARC members thought such an option voided the whole purpose of the PAR process while others felt very strongly that the public had the right to voice an opinion on whether or not they wanted any of their high schools closed.

Mead Ward chose not to take that option and run with it using her formidable skills to rally the other 13 people to that position.

The PARC could have, indeed the Gazette believes they should have, arrived at a consensus – option # 7 was there for them.

MMW typing

PARC member Marianne Meed Ward directing school board trustee Leah Reynolds on how to vote during some of the procedural issues.

The best Meed Ward was able to do in terms of leadership came after the PARC had been disbanded was to send a text message to a trustee with directions on how to vote, while the trustees were deliberating before the final vote to close two high schools.

MMW message to Reynolds

A parent took a photo of Meed Ward’s iPad screen during a school board meeting that clearly showed she was instructing Reynolds. In one line, Meed Ward wrote; “DON’T VOTE IN FAVOR” and in another, “Do not uphold the Chair’s ruling.”

It was not Meed Ward’s finest hour. Many people expected better.

Salt with Pepper are the opinions of the publisher of the Burlington Gazette.


Related content:
If there was ever a time when real leadership was needed the above this was it; the PARC infighting was getting dirty.

Meed Ward had to decide how she wanted to position herself once the Director of Education released the final report.

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15 comments to ‘I can do something about that’ didn’t make it to the PARC meetings; a failure in leadership.

  • gordon

    Steve, Thank You! Enough of the spin…voters in the Pearson and Bateman wards will determine the next mayor and it most certainly will not be MMW…just sayin’. Wait til you see the groundswell of negativism beyond Ward 2 (Central) once she declares her candidacy. Here’s hoping she runs.

  • Steve Atkinson

    Disagree. Meed Ward and Leah Reynolds were successful in achieving the closure of Lester Pearson and Bateman High Schools. It worked to their advantage.

    • JQ Public

      Of course it worked to their advantage. Just as a closure of Central would have worked to Bateman’s advantage to stay open. This was a blood sport from the beginning, designed and manufactured by the province and the HDSB for our captivation and entertainment. There would be winners and losers all round. And there were. The only way around it was No School Closures, but it just wouldn’t fly, no matter what Burlington Trustees did. The rest of the Board were never “on board” for that.

      Cast the blame to the masters of the game, not the Burlington “participants”. They were participants in name only.

  • Jeremy Skinner

    Ref: Pupil Accommodation Review Guideline, March 2015
    Pg 7-8 entitled”VII. THE ACCOMMODATION REVIEW COMMITTEE” at https://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/funding/1516/2015B9appenAEN.pdf


    School boards must establish an ARC that represents the school(s) under review
    and acts as the official conduit for information shared between the school board
    and the school communities.

    * This is the reason why the parents/students were requested to communicate with their school-related PARC representatives and not their Trustees on matters related to the PARC during the period when the PARC was in operation.
    * The Trustees perform the role of approval and thus were duty-bound not be conflicted in terms of trying to lead the PARC to matters of Trustee interest or matters the Trustee wanted the PARC to reject while the PARC was in operation.
    * To that end, I believe that members of the PARC served their parents/students well.

    The ARC may comment on the initial staff report and may, throughout the pupil accommodation review process, seek clarification of the initial staff report. The ARC may provide other accommodation options than those in the initial staff report; however, it must include supporting rationale for any such option.

    The ARC members do not need to achieve consensus regarding the information
    provided to the Board of Trustees.

    The school board’s staff resources assigned to the ARC are required to compile
    feedback from the ARC as well as the broader community in the Community
    Consultation section of the final staff report (see Section XI) to be presented to the Board of Trustees.

    * Public oversight over the past five yearly LTAP reviews and school boundary reviews were important factors leading up to the PAR and will remain important going forward into the future with regards to student enrollments at Burlington Central and Aldershot.
    * Both Aldershot and Burlington Central would have failed the minimum utilization rate criteria had it not been the inclusion of students in Grades 7 & 8 programs in these same schools.
    * We need to accommodate more families with children in Burlington, especially below the QEW.
    * This is where City Councillors can assist us to make it so by your support to managing intensification appropriately.

  • Tom Muir

    Given that this terrible, PARC experience is being discussed again, I offer here the 3 minutes I was allowed to present to Facilitator Margaret Wilson at the AR Hearings.

    My name is Tom Muir, and I am a community member who appears here as a Pearson team member.

    I will provide an e-copy compilation of the evidence and analysis I assembled on the PAR.

    My 3 minutes can’t cover this, so I will focus on a few key findings.

    Overall, my experience was a PAR that was not informative, transparent, or accountable.

    None of my questions, requests for information, or analysis were ever answered.

    There is no reference to my submissions in the community correspondence feedback, or questions and answers sections of the Director’s Final report.

    I had to send FOI requests to the Board and Ministry. These were delayed and obstructed.

    The data I obtained answered the following question, and confirmed my answers.

    Where did the 1800 empty seats come from?

    A new secondary school had been opened with 1200 OTG and a reported enrollment of 1600 projected to 1800 and 150% UTZ.

    This additional capacity was not needed based on enrolment trends and utilization expected. There is no other rationalization provided.

    During 2008/ 2009 it was evident from the Board’s application projections to the Ministry for this build located in SRA 100, that 2 schools would experience declining enrollment from high to low UTZ below the 65% cited below as sufficient policy reason for a PAR, but one was not held to let the school communities know what was being planned.

    The critical policy violation in this was the timing of the PAR not being done according to the Board policy that a PAR be initiated if (Condition 1);

    “The school or a group of schools has/have experienced or will experience declining enrollment where On-The-Ground Capacity (OTG) utilization rate is below 65%”;

    The empty seat consequences for 2 schools were evident in 2008/09, but intentionally ignored, then concealed from the PAR, PARC, Trustees, parents and public.

    And now 2 schools, with the most students in need of extra support, are being closed to make up the surplus seats the Board built. Not a mistake, but a purposeful act.

    The Director wanted to “chat”, not write, and this was the single Board PAR contact I had.

    The Director acted politically several times that I know of.

    (1) On the Hayden build he went political, not taking it to PAR because, ‘it would be dangerous for me politically, as it would involve past politicians, Trustees, and staff.’

    (2) On using a power that Trustees have to make boundary and feeder changes as an option to keep schools open, he advised against this as a reversal of past Board decisions.

    (3) In reply to a Burlington Councillor message, the Director wrote; “a diatribe in which he stated that (the Councillor’s) arguments were inappropriately critical of past board decisions and of former trustees…..”

    Absent a PAR, there was a boundary review only, in 2012, with no explanation of how this was justified. A new SRA 101 was created but the Board refused me an explanation of why.

    The boundary review did not achieve the top criteria it was based upon – “Balance of overall enrolment in each school in the review area to maximize student access to programs, resources, and extra-curricular opportunities.”

    This BR generally failed, with Hayden growing toward 1800 in an OTG of 1200 with 12/18 portables, 2 schools choked to closures, and on busing that increased when it was advised that most students would walk, and program movement criteria that said movements would not happen but did.

    This violation of PAR policies indicates that with a policy compliant PAR timing:

    – the Hayden build would not yet exist,
    – the surplus seats situation would not yet exist,
    – relevant information and transparency would be provided to the PAR,
    – discussion would be different,
    – the decision would have to be different,
    – the 2017 PAR would not have been held.

    This compilation of material evidence on the Board violations of policy, and other conduct, I submit is sufficient grounds to recommend a voiding of the 2017 PAR, and to order it replaced by another PAR or suitable process.

  • Lynn Crosby

    Stephen: all PARC members had to have a child at the school they represented. It was a requirement of being a rep. The Mayor was able to choose a municipal rep separately and could have chosen himself, but as usual he ran the other way. His appointment James Ridge did an awful job in my opinion.

    By the time Paul Sharman showed up on the issue, long after he screamed about Meed Ward being involved and how council should not participate (except him presumably) and long after he missed 90 percent of what went on, his motion made no sense as council could not collectively tell the province to stop the PAR in Burlington while continuing the rest in Ontario. They had no such mandate. Sharman’s newsletter piece on the PAR was full of errors and wrong statements. And Meed Ward’s “actions” on vote night which were reported in the Gazette are easily explained and the reportage and slander she received by some regarding that are completely inaccurate. I always wondered what sort of people take photos of someone’s texts from behind and publish them, out of context, on social media and anywhere they can, while everyone else who was texting was not doing such a ridiculous thing. Well actually I know what sort of people.

    Marianne was the only member of council who tried to help on this issue but her role on the parc was as that of a parent, just like the others. With all due respect I think those who see her actions in a negative light don’t have all the correct facts, which is understandable as a lot of nonsense and wrong information was thrown out there and most people, unlike myself, did not follow it and attend every meeting for the entire school year, and study the issue and the facts 7 days a week throughout the whole thing, which is also completely understandable.

    • Stephen White

      Hi Lynn:

      Thanks for the clarification. I’ll stand corrected on the PARC representation issue and appreciate you pointing out my error.

      I think we can all agree that the PARC process was not ideal…in fact…seriously flawed from the “get go”. I’ll certainly give credit where credit is due: Marianne clearly did stand up for her constituents. You are likely correct in your assertion that we don’t have all the correct facts. Let’s hope that the Margaret Wilson’s investigation highlights some inaccuracies and inconsistencies. I, for one, would like to see this issue re-visited, and I’m not convinced the final decision is in the best interests of students, parents, educators or taxpayers.

      • Lynn Crosby

        Thanks Stephen, I appreciate your reply. Too bad more people can’t acknowledge they don’t have all the facts. Anyone who thinks that any one individual on the PAR committee, or any one trustee determined the Director’s Final Recommendation or magically created a 10-1 trustee vote after 10 months of meetings and discussions either deliberately refuses to look at the whole picture or doesn’t want to.

        At some point, maybe there will be some press into what the plans are for the renovated Nelson High School and MMR High School going forward, if things do go in that direction, so that we can all ensure the students get the best new facilities possible, and have input into what is needed/wanted. There is an interesting article I read about a school closure in Etobicoke where the students are coming up with their own ideas for new school name/colours/mascot, etc.,for the merged school, while some of the alumni (arguably the group least affected by the change) has started a petition to stop the name change. Both sets of students – those moving to the other school and those receiving them, are wanting a new name. Interesting.

  • Stephen White

    I’ll preface my comments by saying I’ve been a big supporter and fan of Marianne Meed Ward in the past. I think the article really captures many of her admirable and stellar qualities. She is a great communicator, is genuine, sincerely cares about people, and tries to engage. Unfortunately, the PARC fiasco probably wasn’t her best moment.

    Kudos to her for going to Queen’s Park and meeting with Patrick Brown. Similarly, she deserves credit for trying valiantly (and successfully) to save Central from the chopping block. What went awry was the following:

    1) as a parent with a child at Central participating on PARC leaves her open and vulnerable to complaints of a conflict-of-interest. The Mayor could and should have been on the Committee, but then again, taking a stand on issues has never been his strong point;
    2) her interactions with trustees at the Board of Education the night of the vote on school closures (June 7th, I believe) which were reported at length in the Gazette, raises lots of unanswered questions;
    3) curious as to know why she did not support Councillor Sharman’s proposal to oppose high school closures.

    Does one lapse of judgement eradicate her effectiveness or reputation? Truly, I hope not. In retrospect, Option #7 clearly was the best alternative, and it could and should have been supported. There are lessons to be learned from this experience. Let’s hope Margaret Wilson’s review finds errors and provides an option to review a really bad process and final decision.

  • Andrew

    So she is blamed when she participates and blamed when she doesn’t participate enough…

  • William

    The leadership model promoted in this piece, where a charismatic figure imposes their view on everyone else is, at bottom, pure manipulation. The PARC was designed around collaboration and consensus not narcissist leadership with one person taking over the group.

    The role of the PARC representatives is to represent the parents and students of their schools. They take direction from them; it does not mean that individual PARC representatives can go solo with their own agenda.

    The province mandated process thrust the PARC members in a no-win, high-pressure situation – everyone was trying to save their school. The stakes were too high.

    The role of the PARC is not to come up with one option, but a range of options – one of which was the no-closure option. Staff then refined them for the director to make his recommendation.

    The decision-makes for the school closure was the Director (formulating the recommendation) and the Trustees (who voted on it). The PARC and its individual members are not the decision-makers.

    Why does this opinion piece imply that the PARC had more powers than they really did?

    When the director’s report came out, the discussion got very ugly, with the discussion descending into personal attacks. We can’t excuse the disrespectful behaviour.

    Feeling panicked does not entitle anyone to run other people’s reputation into the ground with unsubstantiated accusations.

    I was disgusted by the personal attacks on social media when someone dared to disagree with different viewpoints.

  • Lynn Crosby

    There is a lot of misinformation in this article. Firstly, way too much credit is being given on the ability of the PARC members to have any say in what happens. Those of us who researched PARs across Ontario, that occurred over the last several years, know that since the PARC members can’t even make a recommendation, that whether they agree or don’t agree, or come to a firm unanimous conclusion, or make valid or utterly ridiculous comments (both of which happened often), at the end of the day the Director and staff can and will make the final recommendation they want, which can be completely different from what the PARC recommended. The purpose of the PARC seems mostly designed by the Ministry as a way of pretending to get public input. There are lots of examples of PARs where the PARC unanimously came to a conclusion and the final recommendation was the exact opposite.

    In this case, many of us also saw the reality of the situation the Board was in, because of the Ministry funding formula and the way they fund new builds or renovations only when older schools eliminate empty seats. It was clear to many in the Central community that the final recommendation was not going to be Option 7, Close no Schools, because the Board needed to close schools in order to get funding, because Hayden exists and Burlington can’t sustain 7 high schools now, and because it was unrealistic to think the Board would go from recommending two school closures to zero school closures. It was also clear to many of us in the Central community that no matter how you looked at it, closing the only high school in the downtown core made zero sense, was bad for the City, and if schools had to be closed, you don’t keep a 12 km hole with no school and bus out 900 students forever while keeping two schools less than 2km apart in another area, especially when one of the two has declining enrolment and a very small number of in-catchment students.

    Regardless of that, it was the two Central reps who were responsible for keeping Option 7 on the table, and in fact it was a Central PARC rep who made an impassioned plea to keep it there, out of respect for ALL Burlington students, when most of the rest of the reps wanted it removed. In fact I recall the gallery erupted in applause when the Central reps made this point, after hearing from other reps who argued that schools must be closed and wanted this option removed.

    I have no idea what exactly you think Marianne Meed Ward was supposed to do. She was one of 14 parent reps. She probably purposely did not want to walk in and try to take over the room. She was there as a parent. Her task, like the other 13 reps, was to take any and all submissions sent from her own school community that she was representing and give them to the PAR Committee for consideration/discussion. This is what she and the other Central rep did. Over the course of the PAR, there were over 50 options, and in the end there were five. The board made changes to some of them to get to the final five. As I said above though, the Director was not bound by those five and could have chosen something completely different (which makes some sense, considering the final five could all be undoable).

    Your suggestion that if only the PAR Committee had all agreed that Option 7 was their preferred choice, then no schools would have closed is simply wrong. There is a lot more to it than this. The suggestion that Marianne Meed Ward has some magical ability to individually change the course of school closures in Ontario here in Burlington and rally other members (some of whom still seem to harbour a bizarre personal disdain for her) to make the HDSB completely change its way of thinking is odd and unrealistic, not to mention unfair, and the comment that she told a trustee how to vote on the final recommendation is both wrong and likely defamatory. The discussion via text going on in that room at the time, by everyone in the gallery, to all trustees, was all about the process questions and the confusion at the time about which motions were going to be voted on in what order. No Trustee needed to be told by anyone how to vote on the final recommendation – they obviously knew how they wanted to vote.

    • John Paul

      Yes, thank you! You could not have worded this more perfectly. Every point you made is 100% bang on. From the limits of the PARC to the undue criticism of Ms. Meed Ward to why closing central was a terrible option. I’m a Nelson resident and even I thought closing Central made the least sense.

  • joe gaetan

    Four local high schools — Robert Bateman (Paul Sharman – Ward 5), Lester B. Pearson (Jack Dennison – Ward 4), Central (Marianne Meed Ward – Ward 2) and Nelson (Jack Dennison – Ward 4) — were in the mix to be closed. The HDSB board’s preferred option was to close Pearson (ward 4) and Central (ward 2). Seven high schools, including Aldershot (Rick Craven – Ward 1) and M.M. Robinson (John Taylor – Ward 3), were also involved in the Program Accommodation Review.
    Other than Ward 6 it looks like all councilors had some skin in the game, so why is MMW being held accountable while other Councilors get a free pass. Were the rest sitting on their hands while MMW did the hard slogging? The mayor who represents all citizens and all wards decided to opt out by sending the city manger, does he get a free pass?

    • Hans

      Re: …”why is MMW being held accountable while other Councilors get a free pass?”

      I was wondering exactly the same thing.

      MMW at least did a councilor’s duty of getting involved in an issue that affects her constituents. If the others had done the same and had cooperated (a word some of the others are not very familiar with, IMO), perhaps we would not be waiting and hoping that Ms. Wilson will set aside this disastrous decision.

      Editors note. Ms Wilson cannot change the decision – all she can do is say that the process followed the rules or that the process did not follow the rules. If Ms Wilson believes they did not she can recommend that the PAR be done again. It is the trustees that decide if a school is to be closed.