Is the Board of Education missing out on an opportunity to really harness the energy and creativity of the PARC?

SwP thumbnail graphicBy Pepper Parr

February 25th, 2017



It is almost as if the parents who want to keep their local schools open have to do the job with one hand tied behind their backs.

Changes in provincial government legislation has reduced the number of public meetings a school board has to hold and it removes any focus on what happens to the community.

Director Miller has been saying from the get go that the interests of the students is his primary focus – that comes straight out of the provincial government play book.

PARC Jan 27 full group

Parents from different high schools watch the PARC deliberate; they have held four meetings to date.

The Ontario government is speeding up the process for closing schools, as part of a crackdown on publicly funded boards with too many classrooms sitting empty.

Ministry of education guidelines defines schools less than two-thirds full as “underutilized” and are candidates for either closing or changes to their boundaries or programs they offer. The ministry now has new guidelines for community consultations that must take place before a school can be closed. Critics say the guidelines limit public engagement and make it easier to close schools.

A committee reviewing the fate of a school is required to hold two public meetings instead of four under the new regime, and the time frame for conducting a review is cut to five months from seven. Another major change causing considerable angst for municipal officials is a shift in emphasis toward student achievement and away from considering the impact of closing a school on the well-being of a community and the local economy.

The Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO), said focusing the review process more narrowly on the interests of students might help school boards solve their fiscal challenges. But it comes at the expense of the longer-term interests of a community, including the impact closing a school could have on residential real estate values.

The new process gives municipal governments a formal role for the first time, providing an opportunity for school boards to collaborate with municipalities in making the best use of school space.

Goldring at Inspire April 2015 - hand out

Mayor Goldring may have thought he was dodging a bullet when he had his city manager sit on the PAR committee.

Mayor Golding, who sits on an AMO committee, is treating the closing of high schools like a roaring fire – something he isn’t going to get very close to – he accepted the offer of city manager James Ridge, who apparently volunteered for the task of representing the city on the PARC.  Ridge has said very little.

An AMO spokesperson said: “A school is the hub of a community. When you close a school, that community has lost a draw for anybody to ever come back.”   It is self-evident that property values in the community that loses a school will fall.

Then Minister of Education Elizabeth Sandals said that she wants the school boards and the municipalities to have an ongoing relationship where they are sharing their planning data so that the municipalities are aware of where there are clusters of underutilized schools.

The reality many school boards are facing is that there are too many empty seat and they are under pressure to address the financial drain.

The Halton Board seems to have decided it will follow the provincial guidelines and almost bulldoze the PARC parents into accepting the option the board put on the table; close two of the seven high schools.

We now have a situation where the Program Accommodation Review Committee currently looking for options it can give Director Miller is facing a board administration that fudges data and doesn’t work in a collaborative way with the PARC.  It amounts to a lost opportunity for everyone.

PARC the Aldershot delegates

Aldershot High school PARC member Steve Cussons and Central high school representative Ian Farwell on the left.

Miller is quite right when he speaks of the significant time and effort the 14 PAR committee members  are putting in.  They have had to climb a very steep learning curve and have found on too many occasions that some of the data is incorrect.

Miller seems to have lost the opportunity to harness the energy and creativity of the PAR committee.  Is it too late for him and his team to make a mid-course correction and put some substance into the words, “collaborative” and collectively?

This is a shared problem and there is an opportunity to work as a community that understands and respects each other.

Michael Barrett, president of the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association, said in many heavily contested cases in the past, it was often a municipality that was fighting to prevent a school from closing.

That certainly isn’t the case in Burlington.


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