What is the role of the City, and of City Council in the decision to possibly close two high schools ?

opinionandcommentBy Tom Muir

January 21st, 2017


Part 6 of a series

Tom Muir, an Aldershot resident, has been an active participant in civic affairs or more than 25 years. He has been described as “acerbic”, a fair term for Tom.
He has outlined, in considerable length, a large part of why the parents at Central and Pearson high schools are in the mess they are in as a result of the recommendation to close their schools. In this article, one of a series Muir suggest what he feels are obvious solutions to the problem the Board of Education believes it has. There is a lot of material; it gets dense at times. Living in a democracy means you have to accept the responsibility of citizenship and stay informed.

What does the city do?

This school closing issue and decision-making process is by definition political.

That makes it personal, so we are all involved, elected official or not.


Is saving a school the same as saving a community?

The City is involved regardless of opinions. Elected city officials and city staff are involved as our representatives. I want them to comment on what various options and issues mean for the city.

This is their job, and if they don’t want to do this for their own “political” motives then they have lost their way, and are not representing us.

And I have to wonder what the Mayor is thinking when he avoids involvement, saying it’s political, which is just a truism, and thus a disingenuous dodge, in my opinion. He’s playing politics himself.

City Manager Jim Ridge has been appointed to the PARC to represent the City, and I can only hope that he takes a full briefing to that table of the many City interests that are involved and at stake in this issue.

It’s not just Central and Pearson on the block – everything and every school, including elementary, are in there somehow, and in some way.

It is not just a school board issue, although they have the vote, and make the final decision.

I realize that the decision is for education trustees to make, but Councilors that claim they have no role whatsoever 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.

James Ridge Day 1 - pic 2

City manager James Ridge will represent the city on the Program Accommodation Review Committee. What is his mandate and is it public?

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 the intensification development plan that the Mayor and city are pushing does not need a school in the downtown, where 70% of the new is supposed to go, then the plan is fundamentally flawed in its conception and contradiction with any closure plan.

There’s no “complete communities” in this plan, and never will be if it happens.

Mayor Goldring: Is there an event he won't attend? He doesn't have to get out to everything - but he usually does.

Mayor Goldring decided he would have the city manager represent the citizens on the Program Accommodation Review Committee. It was a controversial decision.

Let’s hear from the Mayor and Council on this. We need a motion to direct staff to provide a report on potential school closings and the strategies that can be developed to protect community assets for future generations.

I would start with the following investigation. I would like Jim Ridge to direct staff to examine what the City and communities will lose if schools close, considering at least the following.

We all know that schools have many uses and many values. They are not just for educating the young during the day. It shouldn’t matter that they are not completely full right now – the neighborhood needs them for the future, which will certainly change, and this change is evident now.

People come and go from our schools at many times of the day and week all year, and for many reasons. I ask that the City document all these comings and goings, all of the ways that people interact with the schools.

They belong to the residents that fully paid for them, and own them, and the school board holds them in trust, or is supposed to.

They are a bought and paid for part of the community fabric, the community capital stock, and an asset that has many uses and values, including recreation, sports, social clubs, adult education, clubs, green-space, heritage, school spirit, memories, diversity of city form and landscape, and the list can go on.

They contribute to property values and a sense of the familiar and well-being – the quality of life.


Pearson was a purpose built school -intended to serve both students and a wider community. Are the Catholics going to be able to come to terms with the Board of education and acquire the property?

Are not most schools considered to be community schools? These interactions are in fact part of the glue that ties neighborhoods and communities together.

This will include recreation, sports and athletics, adult education, day care, social and other clubs, public meetings, and any other activity that uses the school buildings and property.

Indeed, the Alton (Hayden) school construction and opening was delayed 2 years because of the partnership between the Board and the City of Burlington to augment the on-site facilities, with city funding, providing 8 gymnasiums, a library, and community meeting spaces.

So this city partnership shows there is a clear city interest in this matter and issues arising.

I also ask that you consider how the schools enter into the City parks and green-space plans, and into good municipal planning in general.

What about the loss of property values, since we all know that schools, and green-space in a neighborhood, add to the price of housing there.

Is the City prepared for assessment appeals and the loss of tax revenue, or is this something to be ignored, and denied when the time comes?

We need a certain irreducible level of schools capacity, and this includes an appropriately located capacity to have schools.

So my point is we need schools everywhere they were built. The extra capacity is money in the bank to buffer the changes that are certainly going to come from the growth and changes the city is facing, and that the province and Council are advocating.

I don’t think it can be said that we absolutely have too many schools, and especially too much and too many of the functions and products and factors that schools represent and deliver to people.

So the city has a big stake in this for all the things I listed, and Council has a responsibility to the residents they represent to pay attention to these things and account for them.

This is no time for silos, artificial divisions, and neglect of care and concern for these things.

Burlington City Council Group

Is a Board of Education matter likely to become an election issue for city council?

So let’s stop talking about closing schools right off the bat, as a starting opinion, and exhaust ourselves figuring out creative and adaptive ways to reconfigure how we make do and keep what we have.

We will surely need it sometime in the future.

Following this we need a City organized public debate on this threatened confiscation of community assets and the multi-faceted impacts on the city.

If Council can’t see their role in this important matter, that goes to the heart of everything the city is planning – strategic plan, growth, Official Plan, intensification, community, and so on – then, again I say, they have lost their way.

Muir making a pointTom Muir is a resident of Aldershot who has been a persistent critic of decisions made by city council. He turns his attention to the current school board mess. He recently suggested to Burlington city council that “If you are so tired of and frustrated by, listening to the views of the people that elected you, then maybe you have been doing this job too long and should quit.

Muir explains that the PARC will only get what people send in, what they come up with from their own efforts, and what they ask/demand from the board. They have to decide what they want and go after it ruthlessly. They will have to fight with tooth and claw and take no prisoners.

Previous articles in the series.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Return to the Front page
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

8 comments to What is the role of the City, and of City Council in the decision to possibly close two high schools ?

  • John

    JQ Public
    Below is a councilors thoughts regarding a trustees newsletter, names removed to protect the innocent.

    “I’ve learned more about what’s happening at the board in the last year getting ….. newsletter than I’ve known the last four years”

    In this case it appears the councilor’s knowledge pales when compared to the trustee.

    • JQ Public

      I am glad that at least one councillor is becoming better acquainted with school board administration, but fail to see what that has to do with the points I have made.

      I want all councillors to be involved in this issue as participants, not just as acquainted observers.

  • Yvonne

    Not a City issue !!!!! Why do we elect school Trustees for ???????

    • Mike Ettlewood

      Good Question! And why do we have two Boards of Education and two sets of school infrastructure? And why do we, an industrial and knowledge-worker society, still have a school year that is based on an agrarian economy, although that largely disappeared a century ago? And why do we continue to pour huge amounts of tax dollars into an educational system that is chronically under-performing?

    • JQ Public

      I’m sorry Yvonne, but I agree with Mike Ettlewood. School board trustees are elected, but the visibility of trustee candidates and their qualifications for the job often pale compared to council candidates.

      They may be qualified (with time and experience)to make judgements on school curricula and board hiring, but I’ve never been convinced they are qualified to handle issues that go beyond the mechanics and administration of teaching our children. When it comes to decisions on closing schools (and even catchment areas), I think they are way out of their league.

      A school closure is automatically a neighbourhood and community issue, by the nature of the history, the structure and the surrounding park and recreation area of a school. A school is an important part of the life of a community and the decision on its future is too important to be left to trustees, at the lowest level, and the provincial ministry of education. at the highest level. The people we elect to represent community issues are our city councillors. As Mike pointed out, they often fail us, but it is nevertheless their job to support communities. If they fail to get involved in this issue, then they will have abdicated their responsibility to us as community representatives.

      Their involvement will give them a chance to improve their legacy from its current low level. I hope at least some of them “get it”.

  • Mike Ettlewood


    Thank you for raising, very correctly in my opinion, the “political” implications of the potential closing of Central and Pearson High Schools as well as the root cause(s). There are those who argue that this process must be completely removed from the political arena “in the best interests of the students”, without explaining how closing these neighbourhood assets can ever benefit either the students or the broader community. In my opinion, Council must accept their role in this and, without undermining the appropriate function of the PARCs and the Trustees, realize that the long term impacts fall on their shoulders as well.

    As it stands they are in danger of being the Council that oversaw the closing of Burlington’s oldest high School and anchor to the downtown neighbourhood, introduced ‘road diets’ to benefit a small but aggressive special interest group, sold part of the City’s waterfront heritage to private interests to the detriment of the waterfront trail, badly mishandled several development proposals and proposed intensification while introducing tax increases well beyond the inflation index. It is an uninspired and uninspiring record. They need to get this one right.

  • Penny

    If there are empty seats in Central High School, why not think outside the box? Use those empty seats to accommodate apprenticeship programs. Classes for adults who want to get their High School Diploma. Offer the space for rent to organizations who would like to provide interest programs for seniors and others who live in the area and would be able to walk to the venue.

    Is there no one at City Hall who has a vision on how to keep this school open until all the development in the area is complete and there will be students to fill these rooms?

  • Stephen Warner

    Thanks for such a thorough review of the issue.