Report on Public Meeting with HRSBs Carole Olsen

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I arrived at about 15 minutes past seven, and given the nature of these things, I don’t think it had started on time and I had not missed much.

The process itself may be quite good, but like any public process, we will only get out of it what we put into it!

Before I report on this and my observations of the meeting, I need to say that there were very few people at this meeting, about 30, if that.

I did not see a lot of Citadel family SAC representatives there. The bulldozer is coming, guys. Sure its pushed off to 2011, but they are coming.

We can go to all the SAC meetings we want, but the decisions on the future, or lack of future, for any of our schools will be made elsewhere. People need to make an effort to be involved in this process or we will be back where we were last August, trying to stop decisions that have already been made for us.

The Presentation:
Her presentation addressing the needs of a school with a modern public school curriculum. She was discussing how our old schools have difficulty providing programs, don’t have cafeterias, are not accessible, due to the older layouts, smaller rooms.

She also talked about how hard it is to update these buildings, in terms of heating, power, and other systems.

We then moved into the declining enrollment. HRSB is the least declining board in Nova Scotia, but has lost 4300 students since 2001.

She used long term stats to show the steady decline of population on the peninsula, and then interestingly, showed in the Citadel family of schools that would level off by 2011 which means that the schools on the peninsula will stabilize with 52-60% of capacity, according to DOE standards. This will leave as many as 5000 “person places” empty in schools on the peninsula. She said “thats the equivalent of three empty Citadel Highs.”

She went on to point out that the population is still dropping, may level off, but aging.

This process will recommend capital planning for the Board, it is not the one year “School Review” that will happen AFTER a school may be closed or consolidated, that is a separate process.

2007 will focus on Citadel, Dartmouth High, Prince Andrew, Cole Harbour and Auburn Drive family of schools.

The committee for each family will be composed as follows:

Operations Research (2)
Administration Advisor (1)
Program Advisor (1)
Transport (1)
HRM Planning (1)
Urban Development (organization?) (1)
Planning Academic (1)

SAC representatives (17)

Community Members (2)
School Admins (4) (2 elem, 1 JH, 1 HS)

Students (2)

The review will be a nine month process:
stage 1 June – review process june (this meeting, web publishing)
*summer break*
stage 2 September – establish committee
stage 3 October – review – where are we what are our strengths what do we have what do we need
stage 4 November, December – Vision – how do we make the system the best that we possibly can within the limitations that we can.
stage 5 Jan, Feb – Plan – how do we get there from here? Ten year plan.
stage 6 March – Report to board

Final Thoughts from Carol:
The provincial DOE must consider HRSB in needs of context of privincial capital needs, the ultimate decision is NS.

DOE funding avilable the timing of the funding for programs determine HRSBs ability to commit to new buildings.

There were then questions.

My Comments & Thoughts:
There were a great many questions, mostly expressing the same questions and concerns that come forward at all these public meetings. Several parents had a lot of concern about the lack of multiyear capital funding and wondering how we could get policy changed to allow for more, regular incremental maintenance funding, to maintain and enhance existing buildings. In addition:

1) Superintendent Carol Olsen was, in my opinion, creating a box to try and place the future consultations firmly inside. She was talking about the limitations of the buildings and the challenges they face as if these opinions and assumptions were facts that a review committee would have to live within, rather than issues that they may choose to challenge or deal with in other ways.

2) Empty rooms and empty “person places” is a term DOE and HRSB uses for a classroom that is not being used for a core public school program. Right now, the classrooms being used as YMCA lunch rooms, day care, outreach, are considered vacant. There are very few actual “empty” class rooms in Halifax. Most of these programs are absolutely essential to the success of the school and are integral to their neighborhoods. DOE and HRSB say that they cannot be made to provide space for these programs at a loss to core program funding, however, there is only one taxpayer, the money comes from one place, it is simply a question of accounting to make sure that these programs are protected and available in these public buildings. To put this in another context, in Ontario, the official policy is an empty classroom represents an opportunity for a new program! We need to make sure that this becomes the policy here.

3) Population on the peninsula. According to an HRM council report, the Stats Can data by district population (2001-2006) looks like this:

11 Halifax 14,921 14,893 -0.20%
12 Halifax DOWNTOWN 14,261 14,420 1.10%
13 Northwest Arm-South 14,945 14,867 -0.50%
14 Connaught-Quinpool 14,340 13,845 -3.50%

So the overall population has already stabilized in the south end, increasing by 81, and overall has only dropped 442.

4) This is valuable if it is owned and followed up on by the community, to make sure that the Board submits a capital plan that actually reflects the output from this committee. The 2002 School Closure Review, which was also a process much like this, was completely ignored by the Board when they submitted their plan for new buildings to the Province.

5) At the other end of the spectrum, multi-year capital funding from DOE, possibly based on some kind of per-head funding, would mean the Board could actually plan properly and create timelines that are meaningful. DOE and Cabinet make the decisions, not HRSB. We could work very hard to create the best report ever and it could still be ignored by Cabinet unless there is political pressure there.

6) A major driver in the process will an assessment of the repair and renovation needs of all the schools, a list of the “accumulated differed maintenance”. Parent Emily emailed me very concerned about this after the meeting, as it would be very very easy to overstate repair costs and overstate the lack of repair of these schools to help build a case to replace them. Glenn from Westmount pointed out at the meeting that HRSB and DOE always talk about how buildings “are at the end of their life” and then when they stop being schools, those same buildings are renovated by either the public or private sector adn turned into useful buildings, usually schools (Tower, Chebucto, Joe How, LeMarchant/Beaufort are all still schools!). If the process is going to be honest, then it will require OUTSIDE INDEPENDENT ENGINEERING ASSESSMENTS of the buildings. This may cost money, but it will be worth it in the long run. If an outside engineer tells me it will cost $8 million to fix LMST school, I will be excited to talk about building a NEW school for $10! But that trust needs to be there.

7) The committee will need to set the criteria for what the community needs. HRSB and DOE cannot point to the Design Requirements Manual (DRM) and say “we need to make these schools meet this requirement” as the baseline. That is not what the DRM is for, according to the DOE themselves.n The community has to be empowered to measure the value of current buildings and smaller buildings against the value of a dedicated cafeteria in an elementary school.