Muir on his timeline marathon to get information on why Hayden high school was built and more on why the School Board wants to close some high schools.

backgrounder 100By Tom Muir

April 20th, 2017


This Friday, the Director of Education Stuart Miller will release a report setting out what he thinks the School Board trustees should do in the matter of closing high schools in Burlington.
It is a messy matter,

Many want to know why a new high school was built in the north end of the city when it was pretty clear that there were going to be a lot of empty seats in the immediate to near future.

Tom Muir, a retired federal government researcher, has done some excellent research – poking away at all the darker corners of the educational bureaucracy to find out why the decisions that were made were actually made.

It turned out to be a marathon task that ate up more than three months of Muir’s time.

Muir can be abrasive, he can be abrupt but he can’t be ignored. He sets out for us a Timeline Marathon which the Gazette is publishing in three parts due to its length.

If you want to know why parents are facing what every politician is now calling a very disruptive situation – read on – and think about who you elect as your school board trustees in 2018.

Part 1 of a four part series:

Muir making a point

Tom Muir

I have been trying to get this information and more for more than three months.
– January 15: Submission to Director, PARC, Trustees, City Council. Ask for information and answers to questions. Burlington Gazette runs submission in 6 parts.

– January 18: Director Miller sends me email. Wants to “chat”, not email, or respond in writing.

– January 24: I reply, agree to call, but request follow-up response from Miller in writing to submission and points covered in our call.

– January 24: Miller reply – writes, “no problem Tom”, to my email agreeing to call and requesting written response. Says he shared my submission with staff, confirmed by copy. No consequent contact from said staff.

– February 8: Telcon with Miller. He says he doesn’t want to open up Hayden planning trail for several political sensitivity reasons he states,- says Hayden was a mistake and responsible for the mess, but he wasn’t involved. I asked again for written information on several issues, including paper trail on Hayden, and other matters he raised – he is responsible, is Director, and is in charge.

– February 15: Still no response from Miller to either January 15 submission, or telephone conference call requests.

– February 15: Another submission to Miller, PARC, Trustees, staff, City Council. I request several of the same and similar things again, including the Hayden planning and decision-making paper trail. Gazette publishes this submission.

– February 15 to March 2: No response from Miller, staff, Board, Trustees (except one who said she read it) or PARC.

– March 2: Submitted Freedom of Information (FOI): Due to complete non-response from Director or HDSB.

– March 15: No response from HDSB, so inquire and submit FOI clarification on my own in anticipation. G Gortmaker replies with thanks so they don’t have to ask me for a clarification, but they had not notified me. This makes me wonder why they did not ask me for one, as G Gortmaker response indicates they needed one. I am notified that they can take 30 days. Clarification accepted.

In similar circumstances, my FOI request to the Ministry was identical in text, but they asked for a clarification in one day, and we settled it in two days. The response to this FOI request took a different turn, however, and as of April 16 I still have not received it, for reasons I will describe below.

– April 1 to 6: HDSB FOI response mailed to my house, but I am away as they were informed. I wonder where it is – I thought it would come as email, like all the other correspondence – so I follow-up with inquiry. G Gortmaker scans and sends by email promptly – I receive April 6.

– April 9: I submit a clarification and correction email to G Gortmaker concerning the accuracy of several documents provided in the FOI response, including the HDSB decision letter discussing the documents.
I submit these are not outside the scope of the FOI request as they are directly pertinent to the FOI response documents and do not ask for anything beyond the scope of records responsive to my FOI, but are in fact directly related to the exact records comprising the HDSB response.

– April 10: G Gortmaker replies to my email as follows – “As I relay the responsive records in an FOI search, and provide data as provided to me, I will refer your specific questions to those who are more versed in this matter (and provided me with the data). May I pass along your email to the appropriate staff so we may thoroughly respond to your questions?”

I subsequently reply, “yes”. G Gortmaker then provides staff with copies of my concerns and some relevant documents from the FOI response.

– April 11: Lucy Veerman emails me as follows –
Gail Gortmaker has forwarded your email requesting clarification on several points noted in her email. I would be pleased to respond to your questions. I feel that it may easier to review these via telephone, so please feel free to call me at your convenience. I can be reached at 905-335-3665 ext 2217.

– April 11: I reply –
I am away and will not be back for another week, so a phone call is not on.  In any case, this has all been done in writing, and everything relevant is in writing, so I want you to respond in writing.

I also don’t want us to have a misunderstanding from something not written, but only spoken.

I need this done asap as I need it in a timely manner.

Gortmaker understands this.
– April 13: Lucy does not reply and I am concerned with yet another refusal by the Board to engage me in writing for a relevant response to serious questions, and the clock is ticking away on the PARC process and here we have the 4 day Easter Weekend threatening to consume another week.

So in my upset, I sent the following message expressing my frustration with this continuation of what is a 3 month marathon of enduring the continued non-response of the Board to my questions and requests for information – and now to essential and needed clarifications and corrections of your asserted “interpretations” about what the FOI documents you provided actually say in writing, as I outline in my April 9 email.

I have not heard from you on this matter, and this coming weekend is a 4 day Easter weekend with closed offices.

I need your explanations NOW, not in another week that further delay will entail. You know the time sensitivity of this information, so please show some respect to that reality and provide explanations of the inconsistencies I noted.

Please provide that information by email today.
Thank you,

-April 13: To this message, I get the Gortmaker reply below that basically refuses any further written engagement about their FOI response, and continues the marathon timeline, bringing me back to the stone-wall of the Board.

Unfortunately for me, you seem to be able to do and can say anything you want as I can’t directly control Board actions.

This further illustrates the tricky nature of the FOI process.

Part 2 will be published later today; parts 3 and 4 will be published Friday.

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1 comment to Muir on his timeline marathon to get information on why Hayden high school was built and more on why the School Board wants to close some high schools.

  • David Fenton

    Cant wait for the next instalment, Tom I am so impressed with your tenacity, but why am I not as shocked as I should be about their treatment of the public.
    They are public servants and by definition are there to serve the public, but also to be answerable to the public.
    Have you all seen the latest rounds of wage increases our city officials have just given one another! obscene does not even come close to how I am viewing them all at the moment.