Public Consultation, not whitewash.

Mr Windsor, Minister Casey,

It was with a some surprise and frustration that I recently received an email and then handout from HRSB staff announcing that the meeting between the Superintendent Carol Olsen and the SAC members from three Halifax schools slated for closure is being billed as a “Community Consultation.” I have attached the document being circulated to the school community.

Unfortunately, this meeting is not community consultation. While the meeting is no longer behind closed door at the HRSB’s Alderney office, the public is allowed to observe, but not participate. It is a meeting where written questions will be submitted to the Superintendent in advance, and where only the SAC Chairs will be able to pose questions from the floor.

On December 1st, Minister Casey affirmed her support for this process and declared her expectation that the SACs “would tell the superintendent they want further consultation”. Will SACs be able to tell Ms Olsen what they want, which is consultation, and not simply ask questions about the current plans to build the big box school? We hope so.

What is most concerning to our community is that this meeting will be portrayed as “community consultation” and that the intention is to do the absolute minimum of face saving meetings, and then continue with the plan to build one overly large school, as before.

Let me be clear. Our communities want consultation. What we mean by this is meaningful consultation. Meaningful public consultation requires a two way dialog, where information flows from the Board to the public, the public has the opportunity to process this information, ask questions, obtain additional information, and then play a roll in the decision making process. A definition is “A process involving the public which is very strong and formalised, therefore obliging the competent authority to take the results into consideration.” The current proposed meeting is not a process of consultation. No single meeting can be “meaningful consultation.”

There is a clear precedent for meaningful consultation in the Citadel area. As has been pointed out in our many emails and communications with the Board and the Department of Education, the last public consultation to take place in our community was the School Closure Review of 2002-2003. This review resulted in two key recommendations:

1 – no schools be closed as the situation was not clear
2 – a new review be conducted in a few years to revisit the situation

Further, while the committee studied schools for closure, it did NOT study or propose new construction, because it had been told not to.

The HRSB has an obligation to continue to consult with the public in a way that is meaningful, where the outcomes are actually included in the plans the HRSB makes, rather than ignored. Eighty seven percent of over 200 families surveyed want public consultation. We are not asking for anything new or unreasonable. We need a school closure and capital planning review for the district.

I urge you, Mr Windsor, and you, Minister Casey, to a) require a new School Review Committee for Citadel Schools be struck by the HRSB, and that b) it be tasked to review schools for closure, consolidation, renovation and replacement. This committee should be made up of members of each area SAC, as well as HRM planning staff, area councilors, and HRSB staff and elected reps (after the next election.).

The precedent exists. This is the type of committee that was struck to conduct the last School Closure Review, and it is the type of committee that was struck to steer the construction of Citadel High School.

I continue to hope that this type of consultation will take place, and I ask you to take action to ensure it does.

Waye Mason