Tuesday, 8 November 2011

How the Farce Unfolded, part two

On February 28, the second ARC meeting was held at Kenner. Blair noted that the City of Peterborough had requested a meeting with Board managers, and as a result Norm Breitner, John Lawrence and himself would be meeting with city staff later in the week, to report back at the third ARC meeting. Blair failed to note that City councillor Dean Pappas had already made such a request a year earlier. In spite of the comments made during the first meeting by concerned downtown citizens, and in spite of a formal request by a city councillor a year earlier, KPR staff failed to initiate dialogue with the City of Peterborough, waiting instead until the City made yet another request, and then delaying that meeting so that the review process would be already more than halfway through before a report on a meeting with the city could be made.

Kenner CVI, named for PCVS grad Hugh Kenner,
an influential English professor

 Clarington Trustee Cathy Abraham, a member of the ARC who later admitted that she had “no clue” that intermediate students at Adam Scott and Kenner were even part of the review, proceeded to show her uncritical acceptance of the focus pushed by Hick, Lawrence and Breitner on the numbers of empty seats in each school rather than the number of full seats. Abraham is recorded as having said, “our problem is that we have too many empty seats, which means that students cannot get the programming/courses they need.” Since the number of teachers and courses is determined by the number of students actually enroled, not the number of empty seats, Abraham’s statement makes no sense. Yet this is precisely the reasoning which KPR staff promoted throughout the process and which many people involved came to passively accept.

PCVS Council President Margaret Marchen, who in contrast to Blair was actually familiar with the provincial guidelines around accommodation reviews, asked Blair if the “Board would be presenting the Committee with options.” Blair answered that “the Board felt that it would be inappropriate for administration to target a school.” Considering the mounting evidence that Hick had been “targeting” PCVS for closure for some time, Blair’s statement reeks of hypocrisy and deceit. Moreover, the failure of the Board to provide such an option is direct opposition to the process entailed by the guidelines, in which Board administrators are required to present at least one detailed option moving forward, to which the ARC may add others before embarking upon a detailed critique of them all. Questions and answers continued regarding various points of information about planning, programs, and accessibility, with the only actual “options” even mentioned being the use of surplus classrooms by Board staff.

Public delegations followed, mainly focused on the heritage, success and value placed on Kenner and PCVS by their neighborhood citizens. Community member John McCormack spoke on the history of the Integrated Arts program at PCVS, reminding the ARC of the conversion of physical space that had previously been made to accommodate the program, and of the program’s great popularity right from the outset. McCormack suggested that its popularity had been too great for the liking of Board administrators, who had then refused to allow the program to be advertised. Jay Amer then addressed the ARC, arguing that “PCVS is an anchor of the community and its loss would be felt by all.” In response to a previous speaker’s report on accessibility issues for the physically disabled, Amer said that the PCVS Foundation would be prepared to cover the full cost of making the PCVS building fully accessible. Blair’s evasive response to the offer was indicative of a pre-determined decision to close the school regardless. Abraham questioned Amer’s contention that the loss of PCVS would have a substantial negative impact on downtown Peterborough, and requested specific data on the subject, which Amer pledged to provide. Di Farquar made the point that no school should close, and observed that TASSS could easily be split into two halves, allowing one to be used for another purpose.

TASSS is really two buildings put together

Blair then noted that the School Information Profiles still had yet to be completed, even though the process was now at its mid-point. The minutes record, strangely, that “the committeee stated that a rating system of 1 to 5 would be acceptable.” We may presume that this judgment was in fact made by Blair himself. Once again, Blair’s ignorance of the provincial review guidlelines was evident. The Ministry had already found that such weighting was of little use in helping committees reach a decision. When questions arose as to the weighting of various factors,  these were dealt with vaguely, leaving members unsure of how to proceed.

Roy Wilfong spoke up, astutely noting that the process was “boiling down to pitting one school against another.” He rightly maintained that “all four schools are good schools.” Wilfong, the man with the most experience regarding Peterborough schools of any one in the room, dating back to the original proposal to turn PCVS into a supersize intermediate school in 1970, called for better perspective, and for the Review to be “put off for the time being.” 

Wilfong's 40 years of experience were ignored by Blair

Blair’s response? He robotically stated that “the committee does not have the authority to change the parameters of the Accommodation Review,” failing to note that the Board of Trustees did in fact have the power to extend any of the timelines, as per article 8.2 in KPR’s own policy document (BA 1.2), posted on its website and referred to at the first meeting.

Knowing this, Wilfong suggested that the issue be taken back to the Board and the review be postponed until the time it was originally supposed to have taken place, 2014. Kitney, however, argued that the committee should stay the course and do what it was asked to do. Had Kitney sided with Wilfong, the two Trustees together may have begun to gather momentum among other members to report back to the Board early and notify them of the ineffectiveness of the process.

With no actual meeting time to work on the SIPs due to KPR’s out-dated and contradictory policy, members were asked to do it individually on their own time and bring them back to the next meeting. They were each given a chart, with the KPR policy, unrevised, down one side, including questions regarding various characteristics of schools buildings, school communities, and their place within the larger community, and asked to rank the four schools in each area on a simplistic 1 to 5 scale, even though the vast majority of the questions posed did not at all lend themselves to quantitative evaluation, but were meant to be considered qualitatively from a variety of perspectives in developing a holistic understanding of the schools. It is no wonder that Wilfong felt that the process wasn’t worth continuing.

Adam Scott's motto was also ignored
At the third meeting, held at Adam Scott on April 7th, Blair claimed in response to a question by Trustee Cathy Abraham that he felt the enrolment projections to be “very well researched,” and claimed that the actual enrolment at that moment was “exceptionally close” to the projections, in spite of the plain fact that on the data sheets there were significant discrepancies. Marchen astutely noted that the PCVS numbers were off by 50. Blair denied this claim, and tried to explain the discrepancy by arguing that there were two different ways of calculating the enrolment. Blair's report on a meeting with the city was concerned largely with long-range projections of population growth around Toronto and Hamilton rather than the place of PCVS in downtown Peterborough, and dismissed the proposed Lily Lake development because no permits had yet been issued. However, Blair did acknowledge that the province's urban intensification plan called for enough new population in downtown Peterborough to result in 200 more students over the next twenty years.

Blair then reminded the committee that the Board's focus was on programming options, not financial viability. TASSS principal Annie Johnson spoke to the committee about the “enormous” pressures facing schools to offer the courses students need to graduate. The minutes record a statement with no logic behind it, however. Johnson supposedly argued that the simple fact of students needing 30 credits to graduate was what put such “enormous” pressure on schools. Johnson used a bizarre example of grade 11 photography as a course that TASSS might only be able to offer once a year, suggesting that if students who “needed” the course to get into university had a timetable conflict and couldn’t take it, it might be “very upsetting.”

No one commented on how "upsetting" it would be for hundreds of students to have their school shut down. No one commented on how having one less school to choose from would dwarf the problem of having to wait a year to take a particular course. No one commented on the fact that there are six other secondary schools in KPR about the same size or smaller than the Peterborough schools, none of which has been put under review because of limited programming options.

Blair proceeded to argue that an unnamed “larger KPR school” had been “chosen arbitrarily” to compare with the smaller (less than one thousand enrolment) Peterborough schools in terms of variety of course choices. “The fact,” Blair stated, “is that they can provide twice as many students their first choice in secondary programs.” Presumably, he mean to say “courses.” There are only three secondary schools in KPR with more than 1000 students. These are Bowmanville (of which Hick had been principal prior to his placement at TASSS), Clarington Central, and East Northumberland, all of which have negative Fraser Institute actual/expected differential scores, as shown in the chart on an earlier post, Manufacturing a Crisis, part five from Oct. 20. All four Peterborough schools under review, by contrast, have positive differential scores. Blair then proceeded to claim that Crestwood was not being reviewed because it was at full capacity, which was not actually the case, as KPR’s own figures show. 

Survivor Peterborough! Who'll be next to go?

The public delegations mounted and became heated as members from each school community began to feel the pressure of the Survivor game. Committee members were fatigued and tried to limit the time allotted to the delegations so that there could be some time to actually think. ARC member Tammy Salem, representing TASSS, requested having some closed meetings to actually get some work done, and suggested taking this to the Board. Just as he had done to Wilfong in the previous meeting, Blair shut down the idea simply by saying that it contravened Board policy.

Kitney, trying to mediate between Blair’s slavish adherence to inadequate policy documents and the demands of practicality, suggested continuing the same meeting on a future date. After a short recess, Blair said that he would suggest to the Board that the policy be revised, but refused to accept Kitney’s suggestion as valid. Once again, Blair ignored the pleas of his own committee members, apparently preferring to minimize the odds of a successful petition for administrative review of the top-down decision that Hick would be able to make, rather than to acknowledge and take action to remedy the obviously ineffective process.

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