Waiting for the Big Reveal…

Tonight, the Imagine Our Schools process will unveil the first draft of the new capital plan for Halifax peninsula. The consultants were hired in September and given until March, all of seven months, to produce a proposed capital plan.

This was mandated by the Department of Education to address the lack of community consultation in the Halifax Regional School Board’s previous capital plan, which was rejected. That proposal was for all of HRM. The new consultants process is for all Darmouth/Cole Harbour schools, and the Halifax peninsula.

Some ideas were revealed at a so called “community focus group” meeting last week. Two draft proposals were floated, one which would see just six, 650 student, P-9 schools on the peninsula, and another that would see eight P-6 schools, about 350 students, and just two 550 student junior highs, grade 7-9.

The nearly universal response from parents and many administrators to these grand proposals? A resounding silence. A “Meh” if you will, of grand proportions.

“What is the problem now” you ask? For a change, the issue relatively simple.

Leave aside the poor consultation, where parents and community members had a bare hour to respond to a 14 page questionnaire.

Leave aside the fact that the enrolment projections continue to be questioned by, among others, HRMs own planning department.

Forget, for the moment, that the proposed process presented by an embattled and battered HRSB administration in June of 2007 was not at all what went ahead, when the School Advisory Councils were marginalized the last voice of actual elected people was removed completely from the decision making process by October 2007.

The issue is far simpler than that. The problem is that the two proposed and far reaching ten year plans would require a massive capital infusion, something in the range of $50-80 million dollars, JUST ON THE PENINSULA, to completely reconfigure the school system. This when we need maybe that again in Dartmouth, and again in Cole Harbour, not even mentioning Hammonds Plains and Kingswood.

It is hard to get excited, whether you are for or against a proposal, if you think it will never see the light of day.

On another level, participants, especially engaged and informed parents, find the process exhausting, because the whole system is stupid. HRSB is so undefended by the province that it cannot and does not maintain its schools adequately.

The total maintenance budget for about 150 buildings is nine million bucks. That is about $60,000 per building. No wonder they are falling down!

HRSB is desperately under funded, for maintenance, for special needs, for enrichment, for ASL, for core programming, for support staff. The Province needs to provide adequate funding for all theses things, and ultimately, the buildings maintained and built by an adequately funded school administration.