Thursday, 3 November 2011

Making a Farce out of ARC, part one

Why is KPR’s Accommodation Review policy so contradictory, divergent from the Ministry guidelines, simplistic in comparison with that of other Boards, and likely to result in decisions which are petitioned for administrative review?

Because KPR’s policy writers over the years have simply kept modifying an old Harris-era document whenever the Ministry of Education under the Liberal government put out new guidelines.

The 2010 revisions to KPR policy on accommodation reviews were purportedly made in response to new Ministry guidelines and the need to expand the policy to cover secondary school reviews. A close look at the actual changes made by the KPR Resource Committee at this time, however, show that the vast majority have nothing to do with either, and in fact show an ignorance on the part of the policy-writers as to the intent of the policy in the first place. Many changes were made which responded neither to changes in Ministry guidelines nor the need to include secondary schools, while the most important changes called for by these two factors were not made at all.

This link goes to the draft document presented by the Resource Committee to the Board on January 28, 2010, just one year before the first meeting of the Accommodation Review Committee considering Peterborough’s secondary schools. The minutes of the Board meeting suggest that the new Accommodation Review policies were ratified without discussion.

The report of the Resource Committee’s meeting itself, which had occurred two weeks earlier and at which almost all the Trustees as well as many senior administrators were present, is here.

Clarington Trustee Steven Cooke, just 33 years of age and in his first term on the Board, was named chair of the committee, without contest. This is the same Steven Cooke who is said to have remarked that he would like to see the number of Peterborough secondary schools cut yet again, down to three (including Crestwood).

This is the same Steven Cooke who was removed from his position as Trustee just over year later for failing to file his campaign expense documents, as reported in this news article. Cooke at various points blamed the failure on "miscommunication,"a "clerical error" and being "looped up" on medication, as reported in these Examiner and stories. Following a court appeal in May of 2011, Cooke was finally reinstated to his post after two months off - just in time to rejoin the Board about the time that the ARC made its report to them. 

Clarington Trustee Steven Cooke, Vice-Chair of the Budget Committee, removed from his seat for failing to file his campaign financial report

How might our world look today had the court ruled the other way? We will never know. What we do know is that KPR's Accommodation Review policy was "updated" by a man who couldn't keep track of his own legal obligations as a publicly-elected official

The third item in the report recaps the process by which KPR’s policy on accommodation reviews was revised. This was supposedly in accordance with new Ministry guidelines. It is noted that the Board’s earlier policy for producing “School Valuation Reports” had been developed mainly with regard to elementary schools, and some new criteria needed to be developed for secondary schools. The language retained in the Resource Committee’s report, however, was from the older policy. In fact, “School Valuation Reports” were no longer called for by the new guidelines. Instead, “School Information Profiles” were to be the key documents. This was a change in both name and function, reflecting an acknowledgment that attempting to quantify schools in relation to one another was too much like comparing apples and oranges, and had done nothing to avoid community discord.  

In 2008, the Ministry of Education produced a long document called “Planning and Possibilities” which focused on issues associated with demographic patterns resulting in declining enrolment.You can read the document here.
Naturally, school closures and the Accommodation Review process were among the topics discussed. The document acknowledged that the process was prone to be ineffective and had serious shortcoming which needed to be addressed. The document’s summary recommends that the Ministry “review the Accommodation Review process for determining the future of low-enrolment schools.” It also calls for funding formula changes, acknowledging that the formulas remained too sensitive to enrolment fluctuations. Throughout, the document calls for a more open dialogue with the public, with municipalities, with parents, and with community institutions, both to mitigate the effects of declining enrolment and to maximize the possibilities for positive outcomes to decision-making processes. On page 34, an “improved ARC process” is called for.

The document questions the usefulness of the School Valuation Process, and emphasizes the need to put educational concerns first and foremost. It calls for a process that is broad in scope and long in timeline, in contrast to the reactive, unilateral decision-making prevalent in the past which had led to so much acrimony. The writers of the paper note that in their consultations they “heard little satisfaction with the present guidelines” (35). People complained of “disputes” over the accuracy of information and the “assessments of the different schools’ ‘value to the community’.” The process was perceived to “pit one school against the other,” and “the outcome was often seen as pre-determined.” The writers note that the accommodation review process has not been in existence for very long, and that “best practices” were then still just emerging. Thus, the writers were not at that time “prepared to recommend making specific changes” to it (36).

Three months later the Ministry came out with a revised version of their guidelines on accommodation reviews, prompting the KPR Resource Committee to strike a working group to revise KPR’s own policy on the matter. There seems to have been a lack of awareness on the part of KPR Trustees and staff of the issues which motivated the new guidelines, as it does not appear that the changes were taken very seriously. Even now, the KPR website continues to link to the 2006 guidelines rather than the updated 2009 ones.

In the revised guidelines, the term “School Valuation” is no longer employed. Instead, “School Information Profiles” are to be used in providing a less-contentious and less-qualitatively oriented framework for making decisions of a sensitive and far-ranging nature. However, KPR’s committee members continued to use “School Valuation” in their report. On page four of their report, they downplayed the significance of the updated guidelines, writing that “much of the current policy is already compliant with the new guidelines. Minor language changes have been made to align with Ministry directives.

The report also notes that administration insisted that “underutilization” remain one of the criteria which will “continue to be reflected in policy,” and goes on to defend why – “underutilization of a school directly relates to enrolment numbers, which can have a significant impact of program viability.” 

Why the first half of the sentence is included is unclear, as the point is tautological – obviously, “under-utilization” is a calculation based upon enrolment. The second half of the sentence implies that low enrolment can have an effect on “program viability.” But if it is the actual enrolment that has the impact, then, why take into account at all the potential capacity of a school building, the other factor in determing “utilization”? Why not simply state that there are rough enrolment thresholds under which programming may not be viable, as some other Boards have done? Again, it was the Harris-era habit of putting the cart before the horse. Even though capital and maintenance costs play a small part in the total Board expenses, they are still allowed to dictate budget decisions as if they were primary educational goals.

The accommodation review policy changes were done under the auspices of the Resource Committee. This implies that the accommodation review was and still is thought of as primarily a matter of facilities management, despite the fact that the Ministry’s “Planning and Possibilities” document is mainly focused on programming alternatives, community partnerships, and a genuine give-and-take within communities regarding how schools are used

The other items on the Resource Committee’s report, for example, were accessibility, financials, and environmental controls for buildings. This explains why the focus remains on “underutilization” of the physical resources. Though the policy justifies itself based on references to quality and breadth of programming, and some effort had supposedly just gone into revising policy in response to public concerns regarding not physical resources but the effect of declining enrolment, at the KPR level the concept of the accommodation review remains centered around the management of physical assets. 

This difference in attitude is summed up in the preambles of the Ministry guidelines and KPR policy. Whereas the Ministry document’s preamble states clearly that all decisions regarding the futures of schools should be based on community involvement and learning experiences, KPR’s document’s preamble is all about optimizing the use of facilities.

The report notes that KPR has and will continue to include Trustees in the accommodation review process, and would add secondary students to the makeup of the committee. This is perhaps the one worthwhile departure from standard practice in all of KPR’s accommodation review policy.

In the next post, I'll make a blow-by-blow critique of the draft-in-progress, showing what went wrong, detail by detail.

No comments:

Post a Comment