Mayor gives what Councillor Meed Ward calls a political responsibility to the city manager.

News 100 yellowBy Pepper Parr

December 2, 2016



Halton District school Board Director of Education Stuart Miller delegated to city council a while ago and explained why his organization was recommending that two high schools in the city be closed.

It was a polite delegation – none of the council members asked much in the way of questions. He had made his point and that was that.

Miller did explain the process that is used when a school is going to be closed. At the time he didn’t mention that the city is asked to provide a representative on the PAR committee.

Once the PARC was formed the city was then asked to select a representative.

A PARC is a committee to Program Accommodation Review.

In a report to council earlier this week the Mayor recommended that city manager James Ridge be appointed as the representative to participate on the PARC, in an advisory role, to be a conduit of information, and to provide meaningful input and feedback concerning the proposed solutions.

The Board of Education initial preferred option includes closing both Burlington Central and Lester B. Pearson secondary schools.

The Mayor said that James Ridge has been consulted and is supportive of fulfilling the appointment to the Halton District School Board PARC.  The fact is that Ridge volunteered for the task.

In a report that was submitted under Mayor Goldring’s signature it said:

Flood Goldring with chain of office

Mayor Goldring speaking to media wearing his Chain of Office which identifies him as Mayor – a political role.

“There is obviously a great deal of concern in our community, especially with teachers, parents and students and within the areas located in close proximity to both Central and Pearson. It is only natural that many residents would want Burlington City Council to get involved in this issue.

“Recognizing that it is the Halton District School Board that makes the final decision, it would be inappropriate for council to take any sort of official position on this issue. I do understand, however, the interest in members of council wanting to get involved simply as residents.

“I am of the opinion that James Ridges will be an excellent representative of the City as a community partner on the Halton District School Board PARC. In this advisory role, I am confident that he will effectively communicate a clear and objective perspective concerning the proposed solutions that will be part of the PARC discussions.

During the council meeting the Mayor said he had received a note from a citizen saying they thought the Mayor should represent the city because he was unbiased, fair, thoughtful and objective.  The Mayor then said that those words applied to city manager James Ridge but that in his case these words were squared, a mathematical term, and that Ridge had the “big picture” as well.

James Ridge - looking right

City manager James Ridge will represent the city on the Board of Education Program Accommodation Review Committee – a group that many see as very political in that it speaks to the interests of parents who want to keep their school open.

Apparently the Mayor was having some difficulty deciding what to do and Ridge volunteered to sit on the PARC.

It is doubtful that the city manager has ever been in one of the city’s high schools – if he has – it was part of a tour.  He would not know the character of the different high schools – what makes Nelson the school that it is and what makes M. M. Robinson the high school that it is.  Ridge has been in Burlington for about 18 months and while he may see himself as a quick study understanding a city and and its character takes years.

Rick Goldring attended both elementary and high school in Burlington  – he is a product of Nelson and know the rivalries that exist between the high schools and having raised children in this city he understands fully what the high schools in this city mean to the parents.

Ridge has children that he and his wife saw through high school – but those schools were not in this city.   What Ridge will bring to the PARC is the view of a bureaucrat not a citizen with a deep understanding of the city and its needs.

Meed Ward responded to the Mayor’s decision with the comment that she had approached the Mayor privately and asked that he represent the city and that she was disappointed in his decision to recommend Ridge.

Meed Ward believes the closing of a high school is a political issue. She pointed out that one of the pillars of the Strategic Plan focuses on healthy communities and the walk-ability of the community centres was important.

The Mayor doesn’t appear to share that view – but he didn’t explicitly say so. He did say “we are all very interested observers of the process” and he felt the city manager could do the job that was to be done.


The body language tells it all – Councilors Meed ward and Craven sit beside each other at Council meetings because they represent wards 2 and 1 respectively and council members are seated in numerical order with the Mayor in the chair. The two don’t like each other and share very few viewpoints.

Ward 1 Councillor Rick Craven had no such hesitation in saying what he thought. He said he totally disagrees with Meed Ward and the position she has taken. “We need to stay out of the work the school board trustees have to do. I am quite uncomfortable with this”… “but it is not something I have control over.”

Meed Ward explained that she has a son who attends Central high school and a daughter who attends Aldershot high school and it is her belief that what happens to a high school impacts the community and that is the business of a city council.

Of note is that there is not a structure for the Board of Education and the city to meet to discuss shared concerns.

The Chief of police has in the past delegated to city council to discuss public safety matters; the hospital boat will send their president to city hall to provide updates. The Dean at the McMaster DeGroote School of Business attends council to delegate.

Politics is doing the business of the people and the school board close to the largest employer and the recipient of a very large slice of the tax revenue pie. They need to work together on issues of shared concern – and if this city council doesn’t understand or appreciate that the closing of a high school is not a major political concern we are indeed in serious trouble with the city council we have.

The Gazette hears the phrase “this is a dysfunctional council” from far too many people who are admired, respected and the recipients of Burlington’s Best awards.

For a Mayor to avoid sitting on a committee that will prepare a report that goes to the Director of Education which he uses to prepare his report to the trustees who will make the eventual decision, this is almost a dereliction of duty, which is defined as “the shameful failure to fulfill one’s obligations.”  That pretty well sums it up – doesn’t it?

central-strongThe parents committee at Central are delighted that Meed Ward accepted the request that she sit on the PARC. Dania Thurman, spokesperson for the parents group said: “Marianne was the right choice for our School’s council representative because she has a son at Central AND a daughter at Aldershot.

“This gives her a unique perspective that most of us do not have. She also has extensive experience sitting on different committees and is used to working with others to find solutions to complicated issues.

“As a group we wanted to choose the person who was best qualified and could work well under the pressure of being on a committee like this. Marianne is very well spoken and more than capable of sharing our concerns clearly and thoughtfully. As a parent of a student at our school she qualifies to be a member on the PAR just like any other Central parent.

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27 comments to Mayor gives what Councillor Meed Ward calls a political responsibility to the city manager.

  • I think people are looking at the wrong set of numbers – this issue is about the cost of upgrading Central to meet the current standards. It is an old school and it will cost a lot for the needed upgrades – cheaper to let it go and bus the students.
    What the parents have to do is come up with a design and a mission for the school to make it one of the best in the province. And it is the parents who are going to have to do this – because the board staff just don’t have that level of smarts. Realize that they are the ones who let this happen – they have a department that focuses on enrollment numbers – they saw this coming.

    • Concerned Resident

      I’d be curious to know what YOU consider the “current standards”? Because I was at the presentation where the Board mentioned wheelchair accessibility and air conditioning. An elevator is easily added. And while there are costs, it certainly isn’t a huge expense. So aside from wheelchair access, what “upgrades” need done? What is it that Central doesn’t have that all the other schools have? Is it air conditioning? I doubt it. I attended high school in Burlington and didn’t once have the luxury of air conditioning and turned out just fine. The Board’s numbers don’t add up when it comes to enrollment, as Central exceeds their 65% “line” and looks to (according to their own numbers) project to exceed that in the future. So what is it that it really comes down to? These upgrades – which most school also don’t have? It’s not adding up.

      • Tom Muir

        These are many good questions. A problem people face is that the board has everyone boxed into their controlling consultation frame.

        They set the agenda, vague issues assertions to their purpose, but no information or detailed explanation – you see many questions here with no answers. Their answers include only closures. This is historically the same tactic – announce closures as a start.

        Residents will get what they want to tell you, and when, as they know how to control people. Look at the schedule they have set, and what they have said to date and how. Very controlled public question/answer access.

        One thing I see as missing is information on the need for new schools in growth areas. How many and at what cost? How is this possible need for growth capacity driving the pressure on the empty places here in Burlington?

        This question and issue needs to be probed and answers provided to the public pronto.

        All the schools in Burlington represent “sunk costs”, bought and paid for long ago, and were built in a time by the Board, for the Board pupil places projections. Obviously, most were built for then, and are relatively big for today’s pupil yields and the provincial funding criteria.

        But so what? The costs now are just to run them, the teachers are also a form of variable sunk costs. No need to build new, buy land, no need for anything much really.

        I ask too, what are current standards that we have done without till now? Tell us how students are suffering? All we have so far is assertions from the Board with no specifics. I hear no kids complaining, except about closures.

        That’s just the way it is and we don’t need to tear them down because the Board can’t forecast into infinity, or meet arbitrary provincial funding criteria.

        Another issue is the dodgy behavior of Council and the Mayor around this issue. It is first and foremost a political issue – it’s personal and that makes it political.

        I realize that the decision is for education trustees to make, but Councilors that claim they have no role are abdicating their duty to politically represent residents and the city as a whole.

        To say that the city has no interest in whether there are schools in the city or not is just out to lunch. The city has key interests, which are obvious and stated somewhat above.

        These interests need to be outlined by the city and Council and injected into the debate and dialogue. Jim Ridge can take these to the table, but the Council and Mayor must take their public responsibilities in this matter seriously and not dodge the political reality they are elected and empowered to carry forward.

        If they can’t see their role in this important matter, that goes to the heart of everything the city is planning – strategic, growth, OP, intensification, community, and so on – then they have lost their way, and should resign.

  • Concerned Resident

    How much infrastructure in the downtown core do we need to keep losing? I can’t believe closing this school is even being discussed. But lets look at this from my point of view. This area will lose a vibrant and important amenity that’s not only valuable to the community, but affects my property value. If I’m looking to sell my home, do you think a family with children are even going to consider this neighborhood? Not a chance. So, not only is a school that seems to be well used (as per comment above) and cherished, but my bottom line is going to take a hit, too. I can’t believe more people aren’t up in arms about this.

  • Concerned Parent

    First of all, here are the facts about the current state of Central High School:
    •Central is a thriving school with GROWING enrollment (currently 4th out of 7 Burlington high schools) – THE BOARD – that is THE HALTON DISTRICT SCHOOL BOARD – has projected Central to grow to over 900 students and be Burlington’s 3rd largest public high school
    •Central offers diversified programming and is a leader in English as a Second Language (ESL), Arts, and Technical programming in Halton
    •Central is located in the CENTRE of Burlington’s intensification area (Highest projected 10 year population growth of all Burlington schools)
    •Central High actually has LOW operating costs (2nd lowest out of 7 schools)
    •Central High actually has LOW capital costs ($1.9m vs. an average of $6.9m for all Burlington Schools)

    Aside from these facts, it is very confusing how the City and especially the Mayor can NOT be concerned about the possible closing of Central High, given the time and taxpayer’s money they have spent developing the current City Strategic Plan, a plan that in 3 of it’s 4 ‘Key Strategic Directions’ states “Walkability within new/transitioning neighbourhoods and the downtown are a reality”, and “The City of Burlington is a leader in the stewardship of the environment while encouraging healthy lifestyles”, and also “Community members are engaged, empowered, welcomed and well-served by their city. Culture and
    community activities thrive, creating a positive sense of place, inclusivity and community.”
    Does closing Central High meet with ANY of these Key Strategic Directions? No, it does not. Central High School IS NOT THE PROBLEM.

    • JQ Public

      If your facts are correct, then you make a very good case for keeping Central High School open, for both the students and the community. A school is purpose built, generally to last a long, long time and to provide more than just a learning environment. It provides play areas and open space and a gathering spot for the community. Central High is exactly that, central to Burlington and central especially to its downtown, south Burlington neighbourhood. It is a walkable school for the neighbourhood, so important today when students are often bussed out of their neighbourhood into one they have no connection with. This just promotes inactivity and obesity in our youth. If density is happening here, and I see nothing to contradict this, then it would be a waste to give up on this school. As Mr. Muir advised, we paid for this school and we want our investment left as is. And I don’t even live downtown.

      • Tom Muir

        I don’t live downtown either.

        I like your listing of some of the purposes of schools. And this fits with the info and other purposes and community fits given by Concerned Parent.

        We need to make a running list of the things like this that people say here and anywhere else. It can be used when appropriate.

        Something like this big list needs to go to Jim Ridge (and Council) so he can get himself briefed by staff on what’s at stake for the big picture of Strategic Plan and Grow Bold and new Official Plan. I’m working on my own.

        In reading your comment here, I don’t know why, but the notion of “pop-up schools” came to mind as where we may be heading, in opposition to your remarks of long life schools, and many others just on this story.

  • Len Collins

    Kudo’s to the elected officials (school board) who made the right , but unpopular decision to close inefficient , underused schools .
    The city wouldn’t want the school boards input on city maters and vice versa, so keep the city out of it , its not their decision to make .
    How about building on John Tory’s toll concept of “user pays” …For the folks in the area that want to keep it open, take the annual incremental cost of keeping it open and raise the taxes of those in the area benefiting from keeping and underused, inefficient school operating. Lets see how many signs stay up after that .

    Editor’s note: A decision about closing schools has not been made, And will not be made until the public participation process has been completed.

    • Tom Muir

      With all due respect, to me, you sound like you have a cash register for a heart.

      Supply and demand might work on paper, but it comes with a heartless, loveless city when applied to children and our schools.

      • John

        Tom, Len has in his own way made a very important point.

        Continuing to spend education dollars maintaining empty spaces instead of providing opportunities and choices for students is not in their best interest.

        We could just raise the education tax but, I suspect that would be a very different debate.

        • Tom Muir

          Obviously, we live in, and share, entirely different value systems. Like I said, supply and demand work on paper, but everything else of value is left out.

          John, you need to do the accounting of all the values before you make and support such points.

          This isn’t about the students, that’s just a sorry excuse. It’s really about politics and narrow accounts of money that leave out so many things that schools represent as part of the community and city fabric and need.

          We need all the schools that remain in Burlington as far as I’m concerned, and it looks like many parents and people feel the same way. We bought and paid for them, but now we have to give them back? It’s a ripoff!

          Please tell me what the extra opportunities and choices will be for students? Are they missing something now – please tell us?

          I’m sure their days are already full, so what more do they get that they don’t get now?

          In fact, many more will get to spend time doing the bus routine, not walking. What a waste of their time and attention.

          They also get an opportunity to learn that the system doesn’t really care about them when it comes right down to it. That’s just lip service.

          It’s about the bottom line. It’s a “practical” matter they need to learn early.

          But as a practical matter, tell me how much the real savings will amount to when there is no need for more teachers, and it’s only the utilities for a larger space that continues. What are the bus costs?

          And don’t we have to live with some extra capacity? All schools are not going to be full. How much slack will there be anyways?

          I won’t go here into all the things that schools represent as parts of the community and people and neighborhood interaction.

          So I’m entirely opposed to this latest effort to rip us off yet again for things we have already paid for and own. It will come to no good.

          I see no dire straits, and no gains for anyone, especially the kids.

    • Josie

      I would like to point out to Len that first of all, no decision has been made to close our Central High School yet. Also, I was wondering where is he getting the information regarding BCHS from. Our enrolment numbers have been going up and according to Halton School Board, Central is NOT one of the 3 small high Schools in Burlington! Our operating cost is second lowest out of 7 schools as well so I am not sure how could anyone claim Central is ‘inefficient’! Len, are you aware that Option 19 would mean bussing half of our kids to Aldershot where they would have to be in portables, and half to Nelson? Do you honestly think that would be efficient? Is this really the best we can do for our kids? Central is not the problem!

      • John

        Josie, the board’s site has enrolment numbers for all 7 Burlington high schools, historic and projected.

        Central high school had 715 total students in 2010 and 595 in 2015. That’s a decline of about 17%.
        Central high school is projected to have a total enrolment of 597 students in 2016, then fluctuate up and down slightly ending up with the same student population of 597 students in 2025.

        Viewing central high school in isolation of the 7 Burlington schools under review doesn’t consider the entire problem the board is facing.

        In isolation central high school is not the problem, in the bigger picture of all 7 Burlington high schools it is being considered as part of the solution.

        • Mike Ettlewood


          Are you a member of Council? Your knowledge of Council proceedings and background is quite exceptional for a mere member of the public.

          • Concerned Resident

            Mike: Actually all the information and numbers are available on the presentation the HBoE made to the parent in a presentation and can be found easily online. And speaking a “mere member of the public” it’s really not that hard to mind that information.

          • John

            Mike, thanks for your kind words, at least some of them.

        • Mike Ettlewood

          Concerned Resident – Agreed but I’m not really referring to this specific example but to an overall pattern of commentary and level of specific knowledge/interest that I have noted.

          John: – You’re quite welcome and you didn’t answer my question, did you. I think I have my answer.

        • Lynn

          The board’s projections and numbers are two of the things that are in serious dispute. Don’t believe everything you read. Central’s numbers are increasing and expected to continue to increase. With the added intensification in the catchment area, that makes sense. There are right now 872 students in the school, 610 of them in grades 9-12, with another 20+ starting in January. It makes no sense to close a school and bus out 872 students. The massive number of school closures happening all across Ontario is a disgrace. Yet closing a school with enrolment numbers like this is unprecedented, even with this government. There are many other much more viable options to solve the problems which don’t include such a drastic measure as this, to this many students. Catchment areas and who is attending what schools are also something that is important and needs to be reviewed. It’s not as cut and dried as just looking at numbers on a screen, without knowing what they are comprised of and even whether they are correct.

          • John

            Lynn/Josie, I don’t doubt your 610 number, that’s 13 more students under review than the board showed as of the end of Oct. this year. That is a different number but, it doesn’t change the bigger issue all that much. What are your projected numbers for the next ten years?

            You both indicate there are or should be other viable option to resolve the issue of 1800 plus empty spaces in Burlington.
            Central is one part of that, how would you suggest to solve the broader issue Burlington is facing?

            I am really not questioning your belief that central high school is important however, the points you are making apply to every school and neighbourhood in our city.

        • Josie

          John, the school board has yet again based their numbers on outdated data. I had just checked again and as of today, we have 610 students enrolled, and that does not include grades 7-8! Even by our board’s standards, Central is NOT considered to be a small school. Central is also our only downtown high school, located in the centre on highest projected intensification area with very strong ties to this community. I am sure we could come up with a better solution to the problem than having our kids who now walk to school, bussed to 2 different schools and half of them in portables. We can do better than this for sure! And we definitely shouldn’t be looking at this issue without considering huge implications loosing Central would have on our community! Our city would never be the same without it!

  • bonnie

    Couldn’t agree more with John’s statements above. This is why we elect trustees.

  • Yvonne

    Heres a thought ,Leave the City out of equation !!!!! School Board matter not a City matter Trustees were voted in by taxpayers to run schools not City staff. Send City Manager back to his city desk . Looks like this is going to turn into a big cluster fz543k

  • John

    One mandate of trustees is to act in the best interest of our students. Their interest is simply far to important to be played out in the political arena.

    Our council’s approval of Mr. Ridge to represent the city on the PAR committee is the correct choice. Unlike councilors or the mayor Mr. Ridge does not raise a conflict of interest between his personal and professional interests.

    Councilor Meed Ward is certainly eligible to be a parent representative for central however, she does have a conflict that other parents do not.
    Her personal interest as a parent and her professional and public interest as a councilor is not easy to separate.

    With the best interest of the students in the balance it’s important to remove all doubt.

    • Mike Ettlewood

      A stronger argument can be made for appointing a politician who, at least in theory, is accountable to the public that he/she serves as opposed to to a bureaucrat who is not or only indirectly so. In my view, the selection of Mr. Ridge is an accountability arabesque by the Mayor. I see no conflict of interest with Ms. Meed Ward, only a willingness to contribute and be held accountable.

      “the best interest of our students … is simply far to (sic) important to be played out in the political arena” – what a telling statement.

      • John

        Mike,always interesting to read your opinions.

        Although it was not a recorded vote it appeared the appointment of Mr.
        Ridge was unanimous, with councilor Meed Ward proving the praise for the choice. So any issues of accountability with his appointment would correctly be addressed to all councilors and the mayor.

        The trustees are the elected officials that are responsible and ultimately accountable for the final decision.
        It’s interesting that the board stipulates the one trustee that is directly involved with the PAR could not be from a school under review.
        They apparently see the wisdom of keeping local conflicts separated from the interest of the students.

        I would be very interested to hear that stronger argument for appointing a politician. The quote you use is similar to what I think, however your addition implies a slightly different take. It is a telling statement but it’s yours, that’s confusing.

  • JQ Public

    So, am I correct in assuming that Council Meed Ward IS on the PARC, along with Mr. Ridge, but sitting as a parent rather than a councillor?

    This might be a chance for them to get better acquainted.