Friday, 28 October 2011

Take Back Our Schools, part two: Uniting Against a Hostile Takeover

While there may be benefits to the economy of scale a large organization such as KPR can provide, responsiveness to the community is not one of them.

When Queen’s Park siezed control of the education system, they attempted to portray their actions as enhancing educational quality and providing equitable standards across the province. In fact, Bill 160 was called the “Education Quality Improvement Act.” Teachers, knowing better, went on the offensive, staging what is known as the longest teachers’ strike in North American history, but the public was divided on the issue, and many business interests supported the Harris government. Eventually Harris won the battle.

Like other Harris initiatives, this one’s shine wore off quickly as it became apparent that the rhetoric regarding equal funding and standards across all Ontario boards was largely an excuse to legitimate a massive $1 billion drop in education funding. The “funding formula” began here. The first version of the funding formula was too absurd even for the neo-conservatives who wrote it, and it had to be revised. You can read all about it in this critical analysis. Dalton McGuinty’s Liberal governments have reported that they have “fixed” and “strengthened” the funding formula and that overall they have put money back into the system, which is true for the most part. However, they haven’t changed the nature of the formulas in any significant way, nor have they addressed the democratic deficit at the level of School Board governance.
McGuinty has been able to style himself as “the education Premier” for two important and very simple reasons: 1) no one could be worse than Harris, and 2) no premier before Harris ever had so much control over the education system. Because schools are the utmost priority day-to-day for anyone who is a parent or a child, and remain of interest to grandparents, no other social service is of as immediate interest to as many people, including health care and policing.
We often assume that our schools are being paid for out of the general Ontario tax pool, while our property taxes go to fund our municipal services. But wait – what’s that line on our property tax bill? What’s this “education rate” at  .23%?

If you own property worth $200,000, you’re paying about $2600 for municipal services – and almost $500 more for education. Queens Park collects this from the city of Peterborough and other municipalities across the province. According to the Ontario government’s financial statements, the total amount of taxes collected for education based on property value amounts to about 6% of the province’s  revenue, which in total is just over $100 billion. Health care eats up almost half that $100 billion, and education takes the next biggest bite, about $22 billion. This means that more than $6 billion, or almost one-third, of Ontario’s education budget is paid for by property taxes. Each taxpayer is allowed to choose what board of education to support with their taxes, but the rates are all the same. This means that one-third of KPR's budget is paid for directly by local property taxes.

If you don’t earn much money, you won’t pay much income tax or sales tax. But everyone pays a significant amount of property tax, even those who rent their premises, as the rent is simply passed on through the system to pay the landlord’s property tax bill.

Imagine how much money is collected via property tax from the 14,000 residents of Town Ward every year by the province for distribution to KPR (and the Catholic school board). Because commercial properties pay a much higher rate of tax, up to seven times as much as residential, let’s imagine that much again. And because sales, corporate, and income taxes are also generated at a much higher concentration in a central urban area and contribute substantially to education expenses, imagine how much again the area constituting Town Ward pays into the school system.

Town Ward is home to about 5% of the total population covered by KPR’s jurisdiction. All things being equal, the area might be contributing one-third of 5% of KPR’s nearly $350 million tax-revenue– about $6 million. But this number is likely much higher due to the commercial and institutional density of central Peterborough, leading us to the unavoidable conclusion that -
Town Ward contributes significantly more than its fair share to KPR every year.

And what do Town Ward residents and business-owners get for their money?

PCVS is the only school of any kind left in Town Ward

If Rusty Hick has his way, central Peterborough will be provided absolutely no educational services in return for the many millions of dollars it kicks into the system - some of which pays for his own six-figure salary.

Is it any wonder Town Ward councillor Dean Pappas and Mayor Daryl Bennett are up in arms about the current state of affairs?

Beyond anti-urban bias, obsession with building-capacity, and professional jealousy, one can may also surmise that one of the reasons why the Board’s employees and out-of-town Trustees are in such haste to close Peterborough schools is that they would like to take our millions and spend them elsewhere, leaving our community to stagnate and eventually disintegrate without a school to anchor it.

In the business world, this is known as a hostile takeover.

Both the Lloyds and Curve Lake Trustee Wes Marsden voted to close PCVS, in effect thumbing their noses at the city of Peterborough, and biting the very hand that provides services for their own constituents. The schools their rural students attend, Crestwood, TASSS and Adam Scott, are allowed to remain open, while the central city school is sacrificed. "Go jump in Little Lake, Peterborough," is the message they have sent.

Vice-chair Angela Lloyd, of Millbrook

Chair Diane Lloyd, of Lakefield

Wes Marsden, of Curve Lake
It’s beyond time for new leadership at the Board. The hiring of Rusty Hick is just one symptom of the absence of vision, creativity and competence at the top in KPR. Unless Peterborough residents see through KPR administration's divide-and-conquer tactics and unite to reverse the decision to close PCVS and take pro-active political measures, the clique of bean-counters will remain on their myopic path and will soon float proposals to close more schools in Peterborough. Gung-ho Clarington Trustee Steven Cooke (who chaired the committee that wrote KPR’s atrocious accommodation review policy) is said to have already expressed a wish to close yet another Peterborough secondary school in the near future. Prince of Wales and Queen Mary elementary schools may be next on the block.

None of the potential closures has anything whatsoever to do with “programming,” or educational quality, or declining enrolment, despite the rhetoric that issues from the desks of Hick and Diane Lloyd. They appear to have much more to do with diverting money and power away from Peterborough. As the KPR budget, linked above, indicates, KPR tax revenues have increased every year for the past ten years at roughly the same rate as enrolment has declined. In other words, in spite of KPR’s deliberately pessimistic rhetoric about declining enrolment, which is repeated in the budget "highlights" each year, there has been actually more money available to spend per student every year! So what are they doing with all that money, if they’re not spending it on keeping Peterborough schools open?

MPP Jeff Leal in eager anticipation of hearing from you, his constituents
 Jeff Leal is our local Member of Provincial Parliament at Queen’s Park. He is a lifetime Peterborough resident and sat on city council for ages prior to being elected MPP. He wants and needs to hear from you in this regard. Call and write his office expressing your concern that KPR’s governance structure gives Peterborough a raw deal. Tell him you want more Trustees for Peterborough. Tell him you want neighbourhood schools. Tell him you want real changes to the funding formula. Tell him you want Minister of Education Laurel Broten to take steps to prevent KPR from mismanaging our property taxes and shortchanging Peterborough.

And tell your friends around the city to do the same.

Once the cornerstone goes, just think how much easier it will be for KPR to ignorantly dismantle the rest of our city school system. 


No comments:

Post a Comment