Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Manufacturing a Crisis: did Rusty Hick attend the Mike Harris School of Strategy?

Part one: How the heck did we wind up here?

In a span of only 9 months, KPR trustees went from approving a request to review programming alternatives for Peterborough high schools affected by declining enrolment to voting to close the city's oldest and most successful institution, PCVS, the only school which was operating at capacity at the time the review was commissioned.

How exactly did this bizarre decision come to pass?

On the 16th of December, 2010, the Director of Education for KPR, Rusty Hick, presented data to the Board of Trustees and called for an Accommodation Review of four Peterborough secondary schools – TASSS, PCVS, Adam Scott and Kenner. Also to be included in the review were the intermediate wings of Adam Scott and Kenner. The minutes of the meeting are here.

The data sheets provided to the Trustees about each school included enrolment figures over the previous ten years and projected enrolment figures for the next four. You can view them here for yourself if you like.

Strangely, the data sheets provide actual enrolment figures for what was then the current school year (2010-11) as well as projections for the same year. The two numbers are noticeably different in each case, suggesting that the projections had been made much earlier and throwing into question the accuracy of the rest of the projection. Putting an estimated 2010 figure into the projection made it appear as though a full five years were being projected, when in fact only four were. Now, almost a year later, the projections are only three years in advance.

Hick painted a picture of sharply declining enrolment for the Trustees. However, it doesn’t appear that he was asked to provide the source of these projections, or the system by which they were made. Were these numbers arrived at by simply adding up the current enrolment numbers from assigned “feeder” elementary schools? Were municipal demographic figures or census data employed? Were historical patterns of student preferences taken into account? Seven weeks later, when Norm Breitner, Manager of Planning Services, re-presented these same numbers to the first ARC meeting, he added only the most basic census figures which drew a picture of the past 15 years in Peterborough, with nothing at all regarding the trends of the future. In the ARC meeting's minutes, it is stated that Official Plans, development activity and demographics were taken into account in arriving at these figures, but there are no details provided for any of these. 

Nor is there any rationale listed in the December Board meeting’s minutes for the narrow four-year window into the future. This is puzzling, as one would expect to base major decisions such as the closures of schools which have been integral to the community for many decades to be based on much more than a four-year projection, and considered with far more care than KPR’s rushed ARC process would provide.

Here is a chart summarizing all the relevant numbers provided by Hick, plus estimates for Crestwood, which was excluded from the review for strategic reasons.

School enrolment figures provided by the Director of Education to Board of Trustees Dec. 16, 2010
Adam Scott10171029980949896866825802783773795808797831870901
Crestwood (est.)107510751065105510451035102510151005995985975965955945935
Total first four4073396539753817363237073602342132983196311430572729262724642303
Total all5148504050404872467747424627443643034191409940323694358234093238

The problem with declining enrolment at the schools, Hick told Trustees, is that the “breadth” of programming and teaching expertise would become increasingly limited with a narrower range of teachers in each school and fewer students to warrant the offering of particular courses. He speculated that schools would soon be forced to offer certain courses only in alternate years or to place students in multi-year classes.

The minutes of the meeting do not report any of the Trustees questioning the massive scope of the proposed Accommodation Review, which would cover about 4,000 students. These reviews have taken place with greater frequency across the province in recent years as Ontario’s demographic balance shifts toward older citizens. In searching a variety of recent ARC documents from many School Boards, however, I could not find a single one which attempted to cover more than half as many students as this one proposed to. Had Crestwood been included in the review, the number would have been greater still.

The Accommodation Review Committee (ARC) was formed, and it held four public meetings during the winter and spring of 2011, one at each of the four secondary schools under review, as per Ministry guidelines. The committee was chaired by Don Blair, a superintendent with the Board, who was reportedly paid full salary to work on this issue, earning $60,000.

The meetings were not well organized and committee members reported not having access to the information they required. No non-public meetings were scheduled, due to a peculiarity in KPR’s policy requiring all meetings to be public. This stipulation does not derive from the Ministry of Education and is not standard policy at other school boards (more on that issue in another post).

At the conclusion of this somewhat pointless excercise, a contradictory non-decision was arrived at. The ARC provided the recommendation that Hick presumably desired – that the programming at the four high schools be combined into three schools. However, the committee also wrote that closing one of the schools should be a “last resort,” contradicting the previous statement.

The farcical quality of the review process and the recommendation was taken note of by community members and bluntly criticized in newspaper editorials.

Undaunted, Hick pushed onward.

A photo of Hick from 2008 when he was allegedly still interested in community integrity.


  1. Saving TASSS, not PCVS, also saved a 444 student over-capacity to be dealt with sooner rather than later with another ARC and another school closure. The current level of over capacity is 73.1% (Enrolment=73.1% of Capacity) With TASSS still open, we will reach the current level of over-capacity once again at the start of the 2014/15 school year (Projected Enrolment=71.4% of Capacity). Closing TASSS and keeping PCVS open allows us to go to the 2017/18 school year before we again reach the magic figure of 73.1% that seems to have spurred KPR Board into initiating this latest review. These calculations used enrolment and capacity figures from the 16 Dec 2010 KPR Board meeting. By the 2017/18 school year the anticipated growth in Peterborough, particularly in the Lily Lake area, might even reverse the decline in enrolment we are now seeing. Maybe even save the remaining secondary schools from the ax. Shame on KPR Staff for not providing an analysis like this to their Trustees.

  2. Ooops, I forgot to say that KPR figures only were given to school year 2014/15. I extrapolated at the historic enrolment decline rate of 90 per year between 2000/01 and 2010/11 to arrive at the enrolment estimate for

  3. There are so many facts that could be used to go against PCVS closing and hardly any facts as to why TASSS shouldn't close. PCVS caters to all of the downtown businesses and make up their soul income. PCVS is the only school currently at capacity. We may not have a sports field but that means we don't have to pay the $70,000 a year that TASSS does to upkeep their fields. We are accepting of minorities meanwhile all you hear about TASSS is how they are homophobic and in fact, at the final meeting, to TASSS students were in the hall saying "If PCVS closes we're going to get all the fags". We have a number of sports, programs and classes to offer. If students wanted to go to TASSS so much then they would have gone to TASSS but the fact is we have more students. There is already Adam Scott in the north end to help house TASSS students if it were to close meanwhile, you'd have to waste money on busing all of us kids up to TASSS and there would be a massive space between schools. Kids who usually walk to school would have to take buses and then there's the fact that not many of us want to go to TASS and instead would go to feeder schools. PCVS is 184 years old, an open concept school with little to no repairs needed. TASS is an enclosed, square, windowless castle in which MANY repairs are needed and there is the fact that there is still asbestos in the school. They have an entire wing that is unused. We have the largest auditorium of all the schools and we use the downtown as inspiration for our art. Contrary to belief our classes are very academic and challenging. We get a lot of homework in fact and have to work hard to keep it up. We have had such alumni as John Balsillie, the inventor of the BlackBerry, Serena Ryder, Juno Award Winner, Lester B. Pearson, Prime Minister and we have had many artists from our school published, one went on to So You Think You Can Dance Canada and one was featured in the news paper for his fashion designs. When have you seen good publicity for TASS? I don't care what anyone says, I will not let my home close.