Muir's Open Letter to the Halton District School Board trustees; asks how strong the Trustees are as decision-makers in this political context.

opinionandcommentBy Tom Muir

May 17, 2017



Tom Muir has been a relentless commentator who asked the hard questions and pressed even harder for answers and the information he felt the public was not getting.
Today – he writes the 11 Halton District School Board trustees outlining their role and the obligation they have to the public that elected them. Muir delegated to the Trustees last Thursday

Dear Trustees,

I have been considering the experience I observed on the evening I delegated to you  and wondering how you are going to move forward in the delivery of your duties and responsibilities.

Muir making a point

Tom Muir

Frankly, there is scarce evidence of your views or intentions in debating this report toward making decisions, and I find this troubling.

This week, May 17, as you know, there is another tabling of the Director’s final report, a formality for final decision on June 7. However, this tabling really only begins your task of, and responsibility for, a transparent and accountable decision-making process. I cannot delegate in person, so please accept this as a written delegation for the record.

This information report tabling allows for your opportunity for deep questions, analysis, and for motions and resolutions for amendments and changes to the Director recommendations.

I have troubling questions about how strong the Trustees are in decision-making in this political context, and if there are any Trustees who will say no to the Director and Board.

I have provided much information, analysis and commentary on this matter, so you should be familiar with this body of evidence, and what it says about the PAR process so far.

The Board and the Director constantly worked at obstructing my efforts to engage the process and investigate the Conditions 1 and 2 that formed the justification for the PAR.

My requests for relevant information were constantly ignored and/or refused. I was forced to go to the Office of Information to request pertinent information, and then I was subjected to more obstruction.

The information I was able to get, which I have provided to you, gives evidence-based proof that the state of utilization that the Board cites as Condition 1 was knowingly and deliberately caused by the Board.

It’s irrefutable that the declines in utilization of those schools are planned declines, the direct result of Board actions.

I’m having problems with how you are portraying the utilization of the schools, like it’s due to natural causes and demographics, and therefore that’s the problem, not the Board’s intention and action. You have been doing this for most of the time since this all started. This misrepresents the situation, and is not truthful.

As I said in my delegation of May 11, utilization in Burlington was planned and directed so as to fill a NE Burlington school (Hayden), and the evidence clearly shows that this was done by choking the life out of 4 of the 6 existing Burlington schools, with premeditation.

Pearson enrollment - monitoring

Steve Armstrong graphed data showing that the changing of boundaries and limiting the feeder school is what put the Pearson high school at risk of closing.

The current UTZ was planned long ago, and imposed by the Board – it didn’t just happen by itself. I have provided proof of this in the data.

But rather than getting to the bottom of how to fix the underlying causes, the Board focused on stopping release of pertinent information to me and the public, including forcing me to submit an FOI request, and even then further obstructing and refusing the release of information.

The current situation of low utilization was caused by the Board, and only by them. Refusing to be transparent and accountable for this is the big lie of the Board.

Now using this PAR, the same Board is now blaming the victims, and recommending that two of the six victims be sacrificed by closure.This recommendation by the Director came right at the start of the PAR, with no public discussion.

To decide the closures, the victims were pitted against one another, a process still ongoing, but it didn’t matter. After a long process the Director still wants his two victims.

His reasons are not the true context, but as they say, if repeated over and over again, people will eventually believe it.

For truth in your deliberations, you have to note each time that you discuss utilization, that the rates of UTZ are the result of a conscious decision by the Board, and implemented in their planning by building Hayden and putting 1500 students there from the other schools and their feeders, causing the planned declines in UTZ in those schools.

Now, as the result of these known consequences, they want to close schools to make it up, and that’s part of their plan too.

There is no accountability, and I think that’s part of the Trustees job to call out, but it’s not evident.

What I have seen is a general administrative failure of transparency and accountability by all the Board, and a failure to show visible oversight on the part of the Trustees.

Do you plan on doing anything to correct this misrepresenting slant, and the failure of accountability?

Stuart Miller

Halton District school Board Director of Education Stuart Miller

The Director’s report also speaks of Condition 2 for the PAR. This mentions that the PAR will address questions of equity of opportunity for students, but I see no concrete problem analysis, or details of solutions.

The report also states that “reorganization involving the school or group of schools could enhance program delivery and learning opportunities.” Please note that the Condition 2 uses the action words “could enhance”. It does not say “will” and so guarantees and specifies nothing.

There is no transparent and accountable information provided by the Board indicating any details of the delivery of this Condition 2 aspect of the PAR. There are only abstract assumptions, and ideology, that larger enrollments and schools allow for this. This assertion is disputed by education studies, and by parents and students in Burlington.

I repeat the point made about how much the financial operating savings are with closures of empty spaces. The $2 million operating cost savings is the only operating funding that is spent on maintaining empty spaces. Since there is no increase in budgets for instruction, more programming cannot come from there,

The PAR Policy statement says that; “Decisions that are made by the Board of Trustees are in the context of carrying out its primary responsibilities of fostering student achievement and well-being, and ensuring effective stewardship of school board resources.”

I remind the Trustees that you will be closely watched to see how your decisions fulfill these duties and responsibilities, in a transparent and accountable way.

Bateman - crowd scene


I ask you to demonstrate how closing Bateman fosters student achievement and well-being in our most vulnerable, and needing of extra support, children? After seeing some of these kids at the delegations, I don’t know how you could in good conscience close their school for so little savings and so much cost, as the most expensive option.

And show me how removing the possibility of the small school experience of Pearson, with the integrated day-care facility, fosters the same things, while providing a test of the real validity of the large school ideology currently dominating the Board planning and design.

And I look forward to you showing me how you equate the ensuring of effective stewardship of school board resources with the closing and loss of 2 of Burlington’s community schools, and the gain of practically nothing of significance in the financial and fiscal condition of the Board. The ignoring of future growth needs, and social changes, is especially reckless regarding closure induced over-utilization, and risks of pressure for renewed future schools and capital needs.

Hayden High, Burlington's newest high school built as part of a complex that includes a Recreational Centre and a public library with a skate park right across the street.

Dr. Frank J. Hayden High School

Remember again, it was the Board that created this problem in a planned, deliberate way, and this added cost of school closures in this deliberate plan, in building Hayden, must not be swept under the rug in an attempt to forget it. That is what I see happening now.

I argue that based on demonstrated benefits to student achievement, and stewardship of school board resources, now and in the foreseeable future, there is no case to close any schools. There are simply no demonstrated financial gains in closing schools, thereby destroying the community of Burlington schools, to provide any meaningful benefits. This is the truth of the matter.

Indeed, it is always in the best interest to deliver and act on the truth, because there is no telling what harm will come of leaving out these details in the future. That’s really what happened by leaving out the truth of Hayden’s impact, so please, let’s not compound that mistake by closing schools.

At bottom, we are not only dealing with numbers or dollars, but instead with children, and essentially the future of our community. This makes our decisions much more important than just taking care of business.

The trustees have within their authority the means to move boundaries, feeders, and programs in order to undo the skewed enrollment caused by building Hayden without considering the consequences.

Hayden was built and filled with students by transfers from existing schools that can just as easily be undone.

Trustees - fill board +

The Halton District School Board trustees in session

In conclusion, the Trustees do not have a pressing need to close schools, and it appears that on planning, financial, fiscal, risk, student benefits from demonstrated significantly enhanced academic offerings as opposed to known negative impacts, the real net economic effects looked at closely, and the impacts on the overall school community, it makes no sense.

If you happen to disagree with this assessment, it is your responsibility to demonstrate your reasons in a transparent and accountable way.

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7 comments to Muir’s Open Letter to the Halton District School Board trustees; asks how strong the Trustees are as decision-makers in this political context.

  • Peggy Russell

    As a Trustee when the Hayden build came to the table, I requested a recorded vote and was the only descenting vote.

    I had studied very closely the Capital Plan of the Halton Board at the time and the projections, I recognized that there would be a problem moving forward with Hayden, if we did not first consider the impact on other existing schools. I am saddened as the former Trustee of both Pearson and Bateman High Schools that the batton has been dropped by the Trustees that came after myself.

    As the Trustee for Bateman, when they closed General Brock and Lord Elgin (I inheritated this situation), I advocated successfully to have more resources for programming directed at Bateman, thereby creating a first Province-wide school new Model of 7 schools within 1 school. The success of Bateman was then taken and other Boards across the Province created schools along the same lines.

    As I was the only descenting voice, when I ran for City Council in Ward 5 in 2010, many individuals in the Hayden school area of Ward 5 worked very hard to keep me from winning a City seat that I lost by 400 votes, I am not crying over spilt milk, as life turns out, all worked out for myself, my point is that many pushed to have Hayden built and there was not enough conversation or thought previously to the potential impact this decision would eventually have on a school such as Bateman that we spent about 26 million to upgrade of tax payers dollars.

    That said I do understand that Bateman is considered to be a school that students come to from all over Burlington and is not really considered a community based school, but the spirit and programs that were created as a result of almalgamating General Brock and Lord Elgin into Bateman, I fear will now be lost and it saddens myself, that so many students who benefit from this school will now potentially loose their school.

    I do not know what the ultimate answer is now, but do know that a school such as Bateman deserves to live on and agree with Bob Bateman that we need to keep a school like this alive.

    Peggy Russell
    Retired Trustee HDSB and former Vice Chair of the HDSB
    Former 6 year Ontario Public School Boards representative for the HDSB and 7 year member of OPSBA Policy Committee

  • Stephen White

    Great work Tom!

    More and more the issue of school closures looks like a manufactured crisis thanks to poor research, analysis and planning by Board of Education officials supported by our Trustees. If, as Tom suggests, the creation of Hayden High School was unnecessary, and its establishment has led to reduced enrolments in other schools, noticeably Bateman and Pearson, then that is a blatant misuse of public funds.

    Once again, I am simply disgusted by the response of our MPP. She is nowhere to be seen on this issue. Her silence is as pathetic as the conduct of the Board of Education and its trustees.

  • George

    Tom you have written an excellent article. There are a large number of discredited processes that have taken place:

    1. Incorrect high school enrollment forecasts;
    2. Wrong and untimely information provided to PARC parent representatives;
    3. Concerned citizens formal “Freedom of Information” requests obstructively thwarted and delayed;
    4. LB Pearson enrollment (catchment) area includes extensive industrial, commercial, recreational and senior living areas;
    5. An “Open Letter to the Board of Trustees and published in the Burlington Gazette thoroughly discredits point by point the Director of Educations final report recommendation regarding the closing of LB Pearson High School;
    6. An “Urgent Request” letter also published in the Burlington Gazette from a concerned mother and PARC member to MPP Eleanor McMahon received an “Its Not My Issue” reply;
    7. The probability of success of the Directors recommendation was shown to be 41% in a delegation presented to the HDSB Trustees on Thursday May 11th

    Director of Education Mr. Stuart Miller who rose to Director on Oct. 1, 2015 was directed to determine how to close two Burlington High Schools when he was less than one year on the job. His recommendation did not follow the recommendations of the PARC parent groups but was a mishmash of ideas that will result in traumatic student and community disruption plus waste a bundle of taxpayer dollars on unplanned, ill-defined change.

    Many years of teaching experience and competence in the education of students does not prepare one to perform a “HATCHET JOB” on behalf of the Wynne Liberals.

    My concern is the Director and Executive Staff are under the formidable influence of Wynne government political pressure. There is a lot of media information to support this thought.

    Keep up the good work Tom you have my full support along with the support of many concerned parents and citizens of Burlington (who incidentally will be voting the next election).

  • Hans

    It’s very disturbing (and unacceptable) to read how Tom’s efforts to obtain information were obstructed. The school board must put in place a policy that will prevent this obstruction in the future and make requested information available ASAP.

    It is now time for trustees to exercise the leadership role for which they were elected and shut down this illegitimate school closure farce.

  • Marianne Singh-Waraich

    I live on Thornton in the Pearson area.
    Please tell me who my trustee is so I can call her.I would also like a sign.
    I am shocked at the conniving of the Board. Pearson is an excellent school with good programs.Its size is much better for kids than mega schools are.
    Marianne Singh-Waraich
    1430 Thornton Rd
    905 3365177