This past winter I served as a volunteer member of our local school board’s accommodation review committee. Through my work there I learned a great deal about how schools are funded in the province of Ontario, and how school boards work.
I also learned about the priorities the board has in terms of what they want to provide for their students, and about the financial constraints under which they are operating. I witnessed the demonstration of commitment and caring on the part of Trustees, Board Staff, School Staff, and Committee members (most of them parents of kids in the schools).
Our committee worked really hard to understand the nature of the problems we face as a school board and also specifically as a family of nine schools. We learned about what needs to be done at each building, the needs of the communities (represented via community input and our own personal experiences), and how the board can access funds to meet the needs of those schools and communities.
We attended many meetings and studied the materials on our own time. We asked tough questions and were fully supported by School Board staff in finding out the answers so that we could come up with some options of our own that would serve our communities. Although this was not the mandate of the committee, it was something we took on as a group because we care deeply about the communities and students affected.
Our final recommendations to the Staff were that a) we try to keep all the schools open and b) if that were not financially possible; we proposed a merger of the Hess and Strathcona school populations into one new build with adequate outdoor play space and walking distance to both the Strathcona and Hess populations.
We did this because we recognized the need of the Hess students to have their education needs met within walking distance of their homes as many of them are refugees or recent immigrants to Canada. If this proposal is approved by the Ministry of Education and receives funding it will benefit the communities in multiple ways. It will:
- allow the remaining repair and renewal funds to be spent on schools which are in need
- allow vulnerable communities to be served in their own neighbourhoods
- bring together students of diverse social and economic backgrounds
- provide opportunities for JK-Gr 8 students to be closer to their younger siblings and look out for them in the same facility (developing greater community bonds)
- remove enrollment pressure from Ryerson Middle School which is currently overcrowded and has four portable classrooms
- allow for large play spaces with play fields for students at two schools (Strathcona and Hess) who currently do not have access to this amenity
- provide impetus for residential development in an area ripe for this sort of development
- allow for the possibility of a community hub in this neighbourhood (personally I am hoping for a community centre with a pool and a hot pool and a community kitchen).
- it will allow for the school board to retain a piece of land in the downtown core which is valuable to the community (parcels of land which are large enough to include play-fields in the inner city are very, very hard to procure)
When the city staff received the Committee’s report, they created their own final report in which they recommended that either a) we merged the two schools into one new build or b) we go with their initial option which was to close Hess and send the students to other schools.
The Board of Trustees however, has chosen the committee’s recommendations, albeit in alternate order. They recognized the work of the committee and the needs of the communities in their decision.
Now I am hearing opposition to the Trustee’s decision from people who probably have no idea what considerations were included in the process of this decision. They probably haven’t read any of the reports (available on the HWDSB website) and they definitely didn’t attend any of the committee meetings, public meetings, or attend the information session that we held specifically for them, at our school). Also, since it was not a secret that I was on the committee or that the information was available in binders in the office; they could have asked me questions personally; but no one did. This hurts like a punch right in the middle of my chest.
The attitude I got from many parents was that the Board had already made up their minds in advance, and that they didn’t care about the input from the community. They didn’t have any questions because they had decided in advance that they already had the answers. Something they are now accusing the Trustees of without ever having offered their input to be considered.
I would like to issue a challenge to everyone who doesn’t like the way “the government” is running things: Please, get involved! Find out what the nitty-gritty details are for the issues you care about. Often you just need to show up, make a phone call, send an email, or participate when you are invited to do so.
No one is being served while you sit eating peanuts and chucking shells from the stands. In fact, your uniformed criticism discourages caring, committed people from getting involved. And to me, that sounds like the opposite of what you say you want.