Friday, 28 October 2011

Take Back Our Schools!

In Wednesday’s post, I drew attention to a point made by Oshawa Chamber of Commerce CEO Bob Malcolmson in response to a decision made by the Durham School Board which he felt to be detrimental to the community well-being of the city of Oshawa.

Malcolmson said that the “one area of the property tax base that has flown under the radar screen and is currently lacking accountability and transparency to the taxpayers is the education portion of the property taxes and education development charges.”

The fact is that one-third of the total Ontario education budget, or $6 billion a year, derives not from the general pool of income, sales and corporate tax revenues collected by Queen’s Park but from educational levies attached to your property tax and to fees collected via the city from developers of new properties.

It is easy to forget that your tax dollars pay Rusty Hick’s six-figure salary. The schools are being operated for you, and paid for by you. The provincial government is only a middleman governed by the Legislature, which is comprised of the local representatives we empower to make decisions in the public interest. KPR is not an independent, private corporation contracted by the province to operate our schools over whose decisions we have no control. KPR is just another public middleman, a body with a budget about the same size as the total municipal budgets over the area they share with KPR. It is a body whose sole function is to act in the public interestnot the interests of its accountants and managers, who are our employees.

This middleman is supposedly governed in a manner analogous to a municipal council. Like Peterborough’s council, the KPR Board of Trustees has 11 members. We elect them at municipal election time for a term of the same length, on the same ballot, and these representatives are remunerated at about the same rate as our city councillors.

So why is the City of Peterborough represented by only two Trustees? Why do our city councillors represent about 15,000 citizens each, while our Trustees represent 37,000 citizens each? Why is their constituency so large that most people have no idea who their Trustees are, or what they do? Why is there so little competition for the positions? Why can Trustees from Clarington and Northumberland and Millbrook simply out-vote our city Trustees on key issues regarding our community preferences for neighbourhood schools?

And why is a man like Gordon Gilchrist, from the hamlet of Baltimore, Ontario, whose primary claim to fame is having provoked formal complaints and public uproar by voicing at length in a public newspaper his fear and resentment of foreigners and immigrants, particularly those whose skin tone and religious background differ from his own, granted the ability to authorize the shuttering of what is likely the Board’s most inclusive, progressive and most urban secondary school? Read about Gilchrist's Archie Bunker-like views, the complaints they provoked, and Diane Lloyd's pathetic attempt to smooth things over here. Don't forget to read Gilchrist's original letter, especially if you want to eliminate the last shreds of any benefit of the doubt you may have been unconsciously giving the KPR Board.

Gordon Gilchrist, verbose Cobourg-area Trustee and promoter of xenophobia

Some of us may not remember Bill 160 back in 1997 during the Mike Harris-John Snobelen years because we were too young. Others may not remember because we’ve blocked it out as a traumatic experience. This short article from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education on that moment in educational history reminds us how Bill 160 made “a severe departure from Ontario's educational tradition by transferring control of the most important aspects of education from elected school boards to the government and its representatives.”

Control over schools was wrested from local communities forcibly by a neo-conservative government run amok. The former Peterborough City and County Board of Education was amalgamated with the Northumberland Board to form the Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board. What had been a manageably-sized board whose operations were overseen by 14 Trustees, 7 each from city and county, became a behemoth stretching from Apsley to Bowmanville governed only by 11 Trustees, each except the First Nations member representing between 20,000 and 37,000 citizens. Have a look at the map here.

Here’s a chart to show who represents who at the KPR Board. I’ve rounded the 2006 census numbers up a bit to account for population growth.


City of Peterborough

Rose Kitney

Roy Wilfong
North Kawartha (Apsley)

Galway-Cavendish-Harvey (Buckhorn)


Diane Lloyd
Cavan-Monaghan (Millbrook)

Douro-Dummer (Warsaw)

Otonabee-South Monaghan (Keene)

Angela Lloyd



Trent Hills (Campbellford)

Shirley Patterson






Port Hope


Jaine Klassen-Jeninga

Gordon Gilchrist




Murray Ward (Quinte W.)

Cyndi Dickson
Clarington (Bowmanville, Newcastle, Courtice)
Cathy Abraham

Steven Cooke
Curve Lake (First Nations)
Wes Marsden


You may notice that Peterborough is by far the largest urban area in the Board – in fact, the only area of the Board that could be considered “urban” by contemporary standards. The population of Clarington is a fraction higher than Peterborough’s, but only because it’s really three small towns – Bowmanville, Newcastle and Courtice – which were amalgamated at the same time by Harris. In fact, Peterborough is three times the size of Bowmanville, the next largest population center.

It is readily apparent that the Harris bias against urban centers was in play when the Board of Trustees for KPR was formed. At minimum, Peterborough should have had three Trustees to be consistent with the representation ratios used for the other municipalities. To be comparable with municipal governments in terms of managing tax dollars, we should have about ten Trustees, at a table of forty. That configuration is probably too big to be manageable – but what if we cut it in half? Such a scheme dovetails with a suggestion that MPP Jeff Leal has reportedly made that he would like to see five Trustees from Peterborough – one for each of the city’s wards.

Consider this: Peterborough’s annual operating budget, comprised almost entirely of property taxes, is about $100 million. KPR’s annual budget consumes more than $350 million of our tax dollars in total, and $120 million of that comes straight from our property taxes. In Peterborough, each councillor, then, on average, is responsible for overseeing the spending of about $10 million per year of our money. Roy Wilfong and Rose Kitney each ostensibly have supervision over $35 million, more than $10 million of which comes from property taxes. It’s true – on average, Wilfong and Kitney are responsible for more of your tax dollars than your local councillor.

Consider further that the City of Peterborough maintains the urban spaces in which schools reside, including those used by rural residents. It plows, cleans and maintains the roads. It provides policing and lighting. It provides the urban density required for businesses and institutions to establish themselves. Many rural residents earn their living in Peterborough. Many shop in Peterborough. Many send their kids to school in Peterborough. Businesses in Peterborough pay up to seven times the residential tax rate for education. There is no question that the city of Peterborough contributes much more revenue to KPR’s operations than any other municipality, both on a per-capita and a total basis.

So why are we allowing ourselves to be railroaded into decisions that are bad for our community by people who don’t live here? The anti-city bias of Harris, lingering in the makeup of KPR, has finally reached its ultimate expression in the latest misguided attempt to close PCVS, the cornerstone of our city.

Peterborough needs PCVS, all right.

What Peterborough doesn't need is KPR as it is presently constituted.

1 comment:

  1. So wait... according to the linked article about him, due to his derogatory commentary, "the School Board officially censured Gilchrist and he was removed from committee work" ...and yet he STILL has a say in a major decision that will affect thousands of people, and as you say, has control over more tax money than any one of the city councilors?

    Unbelieveable. It's time for a change.