My take on Imagine Our Schools

I gave this presentation last night to HRSB Board Howard Windsor.

My name is Waye Mason. I am the chair of a School Advisory Council on the peninsula and I am the publisher of the parents resource, and my children are in elementary and junior high school.

It will be difficult to summarize my concerns with the staff report in just five minutes, so let me get straight to the point.

The process of consultation run by CS&P was inadequate and has failed to meet its goals

The conclusions were reached without significant or meaningful public input into the process, and therefore, the staff report in response to the consultation does not contain a complete and fair summary of the issues facing our community.

I will come back to this, but first, how did we get here?

HRSB had a capital plan which called for just four elementary schools on the peninsula. From October 2006 onward, Peninsula parents fought to have this process be halted until there had been meaningful public consultation over our options.

In January of 2007, The Minister of Education agreed, and stated no schools will be closed without meaningful public consultation.

In February of 2007 the Minister announced the intention to implement the School Closure Review Report recommendations, changing how school closures occur. Subsequently, these changes to the Education Act were made, with the support of all parties.

In June of 2007, the Department of Education requested a ten year facilities plan from HRSB to replace the older discredited version.

Also in June in a public meeting in St Pats auditorium, Superintendent Olsen presented a proposal for consultation and facility planning, the would be modeled on previsions school closure reviews, and would be largely composed of members of School Advisory Council representatives from the affected family of schools.

This was in line with the letter and the spirit of the Minister’s changes to the school closure process, which called for reviews would “encourage school staff and administration and require school advisory councils to participate”.

Unfortunately for all of us, when time came to meet the consultative team in November of 2007, the proposed committee that had been promised by the Superintendent had been shelved, and the SAC members had been relegated to a “Community Focus Group” with no actual input or agenda.

The Toronto based consultants wrote this report, and no parents or citizens were directly involved in it’s completion.

There were two meetings between the consultants and SACs, there was not a single formal polling, questioning or systematic gathering of our opinions.

Instead, following lengthy ninety minute lectures, the SAC reps and staff from five school families, around 100 people, would have 30-45 minutes split between them to answer, on the spot, what they thought, at the open microphone, with little or no time to reflect on what had been presented. This is about 45 seconds per person.

At the first meeting, we had about 20 minutes to individually fill out a questionnaire, and then another 20 to review the questionnaire with the rest of our table and complete a “consensus document” for our table.

The questionnaire had 44 questions, and was 10 pages long. This works out to 45 seconds per question.

Subsiquent meetings were ninety minute lectures unveiling new, previously unseen proposals followed by less than an hour to understand and then ask questions and raise concerns.

In my opinion, the only reason people kept going to these meetings is that until the very end, they were waiting for the serious consultation to start. It never did.

The community has been promised meaningful consultation. This promise was coupled with a belief that school review needs to be considered in the greater fabric of the needs of the community. I still hope this can happen, but Mr Windsor, it has not yet happened.

Now we have a staff report itself the draws into question validity of the consultants work. Others have said it best. HRSB Facilities manager Charles Clattenburg said in the March 8 edition of the Metro News “I guess we have some more in-depth knowledge that wasn’t picked up during the consultation that we’ve considered.” as the justification for the staff reports divergence from the consultations fundings.

Well, in this, I agree with Mr Clattenburg. There was a lot that was not picked up during the consultations that needs to be considered, not the least of which is a full and fair consultation with the people in the affected communities that know their own communities best.

I urge you, Mr Windsor, please do not accept this staff report.

Do not accept a report that will close successful community schools in the north, south and west ends.

Do not accept a report that proposes to close schools that are full, and for which demand is currently there, and will only increase.

Do not accept a staff report that does not unequivocally support the small school sizes that the community wants.

Do not accept a facilities plan until HRSB has completed the process of school review that was promised by the Superintendent in June of last year.

Thank you for your time today.