The Halton District School Board trustees decided last night to include a motion in next week’s board meeting about initiating a Ward 4 boundary review.
Two old sayings struck me last night as I listened to the discussions around the HDSB table.
1. Don’t shoot the messenger.
2. Play to the crowd.
Don’t Shoot the Messenger
The report produced and submitted by the Planning Department for board consideration was included as supplemental information – and yes it is too important to leave as that. How it was presented does not, however, remove the responsibility from the trustees for getting the community into this crisis in the first place.
The Planning Department over the last year or more has brought time and time again warnings to the board that some Ward 4 schools are in crisis and that the board needs to ‘review the method in which French Immersion is delivered’.
Making it appear that the timing and method used to deliver this report, statistical methods used to devise the Ministry statistics used for school build funding, language used in the report, timing of letting trustees know about the report, and method of communication with the public should in no way allow the trustees off the hook for the mess they have created by being program centric.
Play to the Crowd
Trustees did bring valid concerns regarding how this information plays to their residents and how it can be perceived by the Ministry when providing funding but the rather obvious ‘play up our concerns about how our communities perceive this latest threat’ could not go unnoticed or unreported.
Kathryn Bateman-Olmstead, Ward 4 trustee, was correct in noting public sensitivity to the wording of the report but didn’t mention the fact that the wording ‘Palermo preference to FI’ was a major issue. If specifics were provided, it would have been put in the public record and might have lead to board discussions. Will this offensive wording be removed because the forced 5 to 1 boundary is the only reason FI numbers will overtake English at this school.
She was also correct in noting that titling the issue ‘accommodation only’ and not ‘accommodation and program review’ was misleading. To many Ward 4 residents, she has been instrumental in making this a program issue due to her continued support of voting in favour of French Immersion programming at the expense of mandated programming. Clearly, she is not the only trustee involved in programming decisions so the entire board must take credit for creating this unmanageable mess.
Method of Gathering Statistics
The Planning Department uses approved techniques to determine the numbers submitted to the Ministry for funding. Review could be helpful but the main issue with the inaccuracy (especially for Ward 4) cannot be fixed by any automated method. It is human choice that changes the outcome and if human choice regarding programming has no limitations then it is very hard to predict. To many residents, HDSB has actively promoted FI as a superior program. They have allowed community schools to be put on the chopping block above the needs for optional programming.
Death of the Community School
When your methodology does not support the community school as the basis, all protections and benefits are lost. Research shows the need and benefit of having a local school as the hub yet time and time again this board opts to vote in favour of programming first. In addition, single track delivery and the lowest percentage FI concentrations in the country take community schools away, bus neighbourhood children out, and bus children in. Boundaries are constantly amended (thus forcing chidren’s relocation) when you are dealing with revolving program numbers.
No more Capital Funding
The Ministry did not fund the Forest Trial extension. The Ministry seems to have sent a clear message to this board that the physical chairs are there but not necessarily where our trustees may want them.
Centralized hubs for FI has overcrowded buildings and taken children outside of their communities.
The message is clear – no more $$$ to do this if you want capital dollars. You need to send these children back to their local schools and figure out how to deliver optional programming within these schools.
What could be done
In a perfect world, a responsible board would do the following:
1. Reduce the FI 5 to 1 boundary limit. It is obscene as is causing overcrowing and overbusing.
2. All schools would be community based. In the perfect world, that would mean converting schools back – including Forest Trail. This school was funded for a community but later taken by the trustees for Single Track throwing out many of the homes that were used to obtain the funding in the first place. The previous Director admitted in open session in front of the public that the board had ‘its wrists slapped and that funding may not be approved if Palermo went after a Single Track school because of what they did re: Forest Trail’. Clearly the Ministry was angry that they funded a community school and it was taken away from the community. So we now ask if we are going to do a boundary review, all schools should be up for review and should be available to the community.
3. The methodology used for FI must be reviewed and changed to ensure it is sustainable and fair for both FI and English. It should be delivered and managed so that it fits in local schools.
4. Busing should be used based on distance from local schools not to ship out kids because of programming.
5. Local dual track schools must have limitations set that forbid any optional program from taking over a school. If number exceeds spots, then new locations must open or limits must be put into place.
6. Testing, requirements and/or limits must be placed on all optional programs. Methods would need to be developed with analysis of how other board’s manage these programs.
7. Core French should be improved, updated and available to all children instead of focusing programming choices only on FI.
8. Policy must be developed by the Ministry of Education to control and manage education. These policies need to address program decisions, trustee actions, conflict of interest and financial restrictions. Having all programming decisions made at the board level with no such policies is obviously not working.
Clearly the financial implications, public outrage, number of school moves, public mistrust and boundary upheaval is an absolute indication that the method in which boards operate/vote, powers they possess, program centric delivery and Minister oversight needs a complete shakeup.
Let us know what you think.