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Float-gate: our students lead the way in school closure debate, refusing to be silenced.

There are four ways to get involved

I’m proud of our students for getting involved and making their voices heard on the potential closure of their high school.

Any time there’s a proposal to close a school, things are bound to get a bit bumpy.

Witness the uproar over Burlington Central High School (BCHS) students holding “Save Central High School” signs as part of their school float in the Santa Claus Parade. Enter “Float-gate.”  The Burlington Post ran an article raising concerns (as well as support) for the students’ actions, and followed that up with an editorial criticizing the students.

The mayor pledged to review the city’s policies. The students were accused of “politicizing” the event – nevermind that elected officials ride in it every year – rather than praised for raising awareness about what’s happening in our own community and how they feel about it.

The majority of residents I heard from supported the students, as did I. As one resident summed it up: It’s okay to commercialize the parade with businesses, but not a student group advocating for their community. Huh?

Witness also the (lesser) uproar over my appointment on the Program & Accommodation Review Committee (PARC) studying the proposed school closures. I took heat from some of my colleagues and online commenters for accepting the Parent Council’s nomination as one of two parent representative for BCHS, where my son attends. Keep politics out of it, was the theme, including from the mayor, who believes elected officials should stay out of this and chose the city manager as the municipal representative on the PARC.

Our city manager, James Ridge, will be terrific and I look forward to working with him. But the mayor missed an opportunity to sit on the committee himself and represent the entire community. I met with the mayor in advance to encourage him to be on the committee, and also spoke about this publicly during the council vote, so reading it here won’t be a surprise.

Why raise these two incidents? First, there seems to be an aversion to anything labelled “political” – which is a terrible way to treat our democracy.

Everything about the school closure process is already political. Elected trustees will make the final decision on any school closures, based on policies set by an elected provincial government. Governments advocate to different levels all the time. Several Ontario city councils are taking tangible action to save their schools. More on that in a future post. Earlier this year, a fellow councillor and myself both delegated at a meeting of Catholic trustees considering elementary school closures in Burlington. Happily, trustees voted not to close any schools.  All of this is democracy in action. Call it politics if you will, but people fought and died for the rights we enjoy to elect and expect our representatives to listen to us, and advocate for us.

Second, notice the criticism isn’t about the issue, the proposal to close schools, but rather about the manner in which people choose to be involved in that issue. This, too, is an attack on democracy. Every time someone is criticized for speaking up or getting involved, it creates a chilling effect on others doing likewise.  Safer to keep your head down, and stay out of the issues. You won’t draw fire.

But you also won’t achieve much for your community. This is not a time for elected officials, our young people, or anyone to sit on the sidelines. We all must step up, get involved, and work for the best outcome for our students and our entire community.

Yes, it may get a bit bumpy. So it should. Schools are the heart of communities. We should care passionately about what happens in our schools, and to our schools. With passion, comes differing perspectives. Let’s welcome the discussion.

Thank goodness our students are bold and bright and won’t be silenced. They showed courage in going public with their views and doing what they can to raise awareness to save their school. We should be celebrating these students, and encouraging all our young citizens to follow suit. These kids are embracing and acting on the privileges that come with living in a democracy. You make our community proud!

My Take: The final recommendation and decision by the trustees could be very different from the initial recommendation to close Central, close Pearson HS and make other program and boundary changes. It could be your school proposed to close instead.

Here are several ways you can get involved and make your views known.

  1. Provide feedback to your parent representatives on the PARC. The Central HS reps, Ian Farwell and I, can be reached at centralparc@hdsb.ca. A complete list of parent representatives by school is available here, along with meeting dates for the PARC. The meetings are open to the public to observe. The role of the PARC is to collect feedback from the community and generate options for the school board’s consideration, which may be different from Option 19.
  2. Review the material in support of Option 19, which recommends closing Central HS, closing Pearson HS, setting up portables at Aldershot and moving French Immersion from Dr. Frank J. Hayden Secondary School to Robert Bateman High School. Does the evidence support this option? Does the evidence point to other options that are better for kids and communities? Material includes the Long Term Accommodation Plan with projected enrolments, School Information Profiles, Frequently Asked Questions, director’s report to trustees, and much more. It can all be found on the HDSB site beginning here: Program and Accommodation Review.
  3. Join the conversation in your community. Central HS and Pearson HS have community groups advocating keeping those schools open: #Central Strong; Save Lester B Pearson. The Aldershot HS PARC members have started a Facebook page: AldershotPARC
  4. Attend the public meetings, and delegate to trustees. Meetings are Dec. 8, 2016 (review post-meeting materials online); Feb. 28, March 2. Details: Make Your Voice Heard Public delegation evening to the trustees is April 18. A final decision will be made by the Trustees May 17.

I want to hear from you, no matter what your view is on the current proposed school closures or other options that may emerge. Leave a comment below or contact me by email at centralparc@hdsb.ca, privately at mariannemeedward@bell.net or at home: 905.335.1899. I encourage you to get involved.

I was inspired to seek public office because I believe, like so many of you, “I can do something about that” on the issues we face. As councilor, my role is to take a stand on what’s best for residents and go to bat for it. Pushback is inevitable from those who don’t have the community’s interests at heart. I will stand with you and for you, to achieve the best interests of our city, without caving to unacceptable compromise in the name of consensus.

6 Comments

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  1. Hi Tom
    You have a lot of questions and I don’t have all the answers however, I can tell you the building of schools has followed the expansion of the city and the associated need for new facilities.
    This issue requires the consideration of all 7 schools but I will address the 3 in the north as it seems to be the source of your concern.

    The total OTG capacity of MMR and Pearson is 1989 without portables.
    I don’t have the exact number of students in 2012 when the decision to build Hayden was made however, in 2016 there were 2652 students accommodated in the three schools north of the QEW. As you say Hayden absorbed some students from MMR and Pearson, just as Pearson absorbed some of the students from MMR.
    The OTG capacity of the 3 schools north of the QEW is 3183 without portables, redistributing the 2652 students between these schools would result in 83% utilization projected to rise to 85% in 2024.
    That would seem to solve the issue for the overcrowding at Hayden and the underutilization of MMR and Pearson. It looks like the board got the numbers right when they built Hayden but, does in enable the board to provide the best program and scheduling options for our students?
    If Hayden wasn’t built MMR and Pearson would be at capacity and we would now have 663 students that would have to accommodated somewhere.

    What about the excess pupil spaces in the 4 schools to the south?
    In 2016 there were 2832 students in the 4 schools south of the QEW, that is projected to decline to 2757 in 2024.
    The total OTG capacity of the 4 schools to the south is 4092 with 1260 excess pupil spaces, that is a more complicated and difficult issue to balance.
    The board has suggested by closing Pearson and redirecting those students and some from Hayden to MMR they will also be able to redirect some students to Bateman and help reduce some of those excess pupil spaces.

    As I said, this is an issue that requires full unbiased consideration of all 7 schools, isolating one doesn’t get the problem solved or benefit the other 6.

  2. I applaud your passion yet you can’t sit on both sides of fence . If the City is involved ,how as a Councillor can you comment unbiased if you also sit on the committee to save the school I have commented before that this is a school board issue and no City staff or elected City officials should comment or affect the vote . I wish you luck in your fight

    • Yvonne, I appreciate your right to opinion, but I think you are arbitrarily restricting what a political issue is. 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.

      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.

      Commenting is not the same as trying to affect the vote

      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. I support Councilor Meed Ward at the table, as someone with her savvy is needed.

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

      It’s not just Central and Pearson on the block – everything and every school is 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 want their feet held to the fire, since it is their past decisions, and not really paying attention, that has created the mess we are in.

  3. “Second, notice the criticism isn’t about the issue, the proposal to close schools, but rather about the manner in which people choose to be involved in that issue”

    Two things that seem unusual about your statement.
    The issue is about 1800 excess student spaces and how that effects the board’s ability to provide the best opportunities possible for our students, closing schools is only one option to resolve those imbalances.
    The manner you have chosen to get involved, as a parent representative for central yet I am reading your comments on ward 2 news where you present yourself as a councilor. It’s obvious you can’t separate these positions, raising concerns of your ability to be fair and equitable to all schools under review.

    As a political representative for ward 2 where central is located, are you involved as a parent representative to save central high school over other schools or are you open to a fair and equitable process to achieve the best result for students of all schools ?

    • John,

      I think your issue definition as 1800 excess places is thin.

      But if we accept it at face value, what does it imply about the strictly business end of producing student spaces?

      In 2012 the utilization of SRA 100 Burlington spaces was 87%, so there was a minimal excess over the Board target of 90%. It was also projected to fall and is now at about 75%. But it only fell because Hayden was opened and students were transferred there, and this continues to date, filling up portables and a projected student surplus of about 600.

      What the hell is going on here may I ask, with the Board sense of planning? And this just looks to continue in this PAR.

      The point being for our business model, is that there is no apparent rationale, no business case, to build Hayden, as there was no shortage of supply of student places. There was already some identifiable excess.

      With such an excess supply identified, and projected to worsen, on the basis of your issue definition, what reason existed to build additional supply of students spaces at Hayden? In fact, we still don’t need Hayden on this basis.

      If we made this kind of business decision, we would be in deep doo-doo, and in deeper when there are serious consequences, which there are, but not for those who made the decisions.

      This decision by the Board had no justifying business case in terms of student spaces, but created an excess which is now being used to justify closing schools to make up for their mistake. Everyone knows this has just made things much worse and created a divisive mess for which no one is being held accountable.

      Regarding the provision of opportunities, there was never any evidence provided to show that Hayden provided any opportunities that didn’t already exist. And there is still no evidence provided that closing other schools will provide any additional opportunities that also don’t already exist.

      In fact, closing schools will require that 500 to 600 additional students are provided, rather “necessitated”, the “opportunity” to ride the bus to school instead of walk, which most of the would be displaced do at present. Some opportunity this is.

      Hopefully, you can see the thinness of putting the issue as just about excess student spaces. The Board itself created the excess. It didn’t exist before Hayden. Why was Hayden built? Where’s the cost-benefit analysis of what has been created?

      The only thing I have even remotely heard, is that the people in the north of Burlington, in Alton, were entitled to, or “needed” schools in their neighborhood.

      Which begs the question, what about the rest of Burlington, now under the gun because of the Board building a Hayden not needed for student spaces.

      And here is where the real issue mess lies, the part left out of your issue definition. Because the students were transferred in ever greater numbers, even overflowing into portables, exceeding the Hayden built supply of places, from the existing schools, and then their feeders, thus creating the excess in those schools.

      So that’s where the logic of your issue definition takes us John. Based on your definition, Hayden should not have been built. Is anyone going to be held accountable for this?

      If Hayden neighborhood residents and parents and students “needed” their own school, whatever happened to the rest of us down here in the south? Do we not count in this?

      This is the real mess that your issue definition is too thin to manage. It is much more than excess student places.

What's your take?