Friday, 30 March 2012

Leal Can’t Weasel Out of This One

In a recent reply to a citizen complaint about his failure to act on the PCVS issue, Liberal MPP Jeff Leal vainly attempted to justify himself by claiming that his hands are tied. “In Ontario, we have locally elected trustees to make local decisions,” he wrote, insulting the intelligence of his correspondent, as if she somehow wasn’t aware of this system. “There is no legislation that allows the Minister to overrule a board's decision on a school closing.”

Obviously, Leal left out the two most important facts underlying his comment.

One, Peterborough’s locally-elected Trustees did not vote to close PCVS. The Trustees who did vote to close the school are not elected by Peterborough citizens, cannot be challenged at the ballot box, and therefore are not held accountable to the principal core of taxpayers who not only fund Peterborough schools but also subsidize schools outside the city.

Two, Leal’s government is responsible for creating the very legislation which they now claim renders them powerless.

Nine years in office gave Leal and his Liberal crew ample opportunities to redraw the farcical system of school board governance in Ontario. Instead, they felt it prudent to maintain the facade of “local accountability” in the guise of the democratically-neglected Boards of Trustees. When the chance came to actually reform the system with Bill 177, the “Student Achievement and School Board Governance Act,” all they did was to restrict Trustees’ rights to free speech, leaving virtually all the power in the hands of unelected, unaccountable school board administrators, and in backroom deals at Queen’s Park.

Way to go, Jeff!

How can it be possible to justify a system in which Trustees representing Lakefield, Millbrook, Bowmanville, Port Hope, Cobourg and Brighton have the power to drastically reshape the Peterborough community over the objections of Peterborough’s own elected representatives? How can Leal defend a system in which the people affected, those who are actually footing the bill for the school board’s operations, have absolutely no recourse to run against the decision-makers or vote them out of office, and in fact can be legally prevented from even voicing their own objections in a publicly-funded boardroom?

To add insult to injury, keep in mind that Peterborough tax dollars keep all of KPR running. The property tax rate for businesses, a sizable chunk of which goes to fund education, is seven times the rate for residences. Peterborough is three times as large as the next largest urban center in KPR’s jurisdiction and is the business center of the entire region. Aren’t you so glad to know that your tax dollars are helping keep schools open in Cobourg, Hastings, Bailieboro and Orono, while central Peterborough is about to be entirely deprived of regular educational services?

The injustice at the local level is even more stark.

There are five KPR schools in Northcrest ward, plus two Catholic schools. There are four KPR schools in Ashburnham, plus three Catholic. There are four KPR schools in Otonabee, plus three Catholic. There are five KPR schools in Monaghan ward (if we include James Strath and Crestwood, which technically sit just outside city limits at Brealey and Sherbrooke), plus three more Catholic.

And Town Ward, the core of Peterborough? Just onePCVS. And that’s about to be shut down.

Much of the media coverage to date has focused on the dramatic story of PCVS students fighting to save the school they love. It does make a great story, and we’re proud of those students. Sometimes we hear about the negative impact on Peterborough’s downtown merchants – also an important issue. We’ve also read about the concerns of Peterborough’s physicians on the role PCVS plays from a public health perspective – yet another key consideration.

But what about the deeper, more basic, but less visible issue – the right of people who have no choice but to pay education tax to actually receive neighbourhood services in return? What about the residents and property-owners of central Peterborough, who as a group cough up millions of dollars every year to KPR and the Catholic board, and are then told they have to bus or drive their kids out to the suburban neighbourhoods to go to school?

Can you imagine City Hall treating its constituents the way KPR treats us? Sorry, running water is no longer a priority for downtown residents – you’ll have to go over to East City to fill your Brita. Snowplowing? Sorry, we’re not going to plow downtown streets any more – we need to concentrate on keeping the winding roads of Northcrest clear. Policing? Sorry, the cops are needed in the south end – we can’t spare any for downtown. Come down to Lansdowne if you have any problems.

But, oh, by the way, you’ll still have to keep paying for these services. You don’t mind, do you?

This is the world Jeff Leal and his Liberal cronies have wrought for us. They don’t see anything out of order about it. Democracy? Fairness? Common sense? Not important. Let’s get on with the real business of Ontario – building nuclear power plants and shuttling public money into private corporations like ORNGE.

One year ago, NDP MPP Rosario Marchese introduced Bill 183, which would allow the Ontario Ombudsman to respond to complaints over the mismanagement of school boards (as well as municipalities, hospitals and universities). The Liberals voted it down. You can read the summary of the situation from the  Ombudsman’s office here, and a public  response from concerned and disgusted parents’ groups in York Region and western Ontario here.

Leal’s support dropped from 24,000 votes in the 2007 election to 17,000 last year. PC candidate Alan Wilson and NDP candidate Dave Nickle (a retired KPR teacher) weren’t far behind with 14,000 and 12,000 respectively.

It’s safe to say that if KPR is allowed to close PCVS, Jeff Leal will stand little chance of being re-elected in Peterborough when his government falls. The lone Liberal seat circled by Conservative ridings will soon be gone, and Leal will be remembered as the man who fiddled while central Peterborough burned, tarnishing the Liberal brand locally for years to come.

Leal gives the impression that he’s just going through the motions. One is driven to conclude that he doesn’t actually care. He must be close to retirement. He’s due for a big, fat pension at the public expense. His kids aren’t in the public school system. He doesn’t live downtown. What does it matter to him?

Send us a postcard from Puerto Vallarta, Jeff. Or just send us the bill. 

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

KPR is Above the Law

This week the Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board finally dropped the pretense of being a “public” institution.

This past Monday, Superintendent Peter Mangold (2011 salary: $142,725.49) appeared to shed any traces of KPR respect for Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and for the parents and grandparents whose taxes pay his own salary, when he told PCVS students that they’re no longer permitted to discuss any resistance to the authority of the school board while in the school, as reported in this Examiner article.

Mangold implied that any disagreement with KPR’s decisions constitutes negative behaviour and cannot be tolerated. “We want to promote positive messages,” said Mangold, lamely attempting to defend his indefensible edict.

First the teachers were silenced. Then concerned parents and community members were prohibited from meeting on “school board property.” Then taxpayers were told they no longer have the right to address Trustees on the subject of PCVS in the boardroom. Now KPR’s authoritarianism has reached its necessary end: free speech is no longer permitted in public schools.

On Wednesday, March 28th, PCVS students ready to meet found the school auditorium locked up. Students instead staged a sit-in, lining the walls of the main school hallway. Journalists attempting to cover the controversy were told to get off the property. Instead they gathered at the cenotaph, under the Canadian flag, in plain sight of City Hall, wondering what has become of our democratic freedoms.

PCVS civic engagement no longer welcome at KPR

Nothing now distinguishes KPR from a private corporation except one thing: the $377 million dollars of public money in their annual budget.

Last Friday, the Ontario government released its “sunshine list” of public servants earning six-figure salaries. A total of 134 KPR employees, most of them principals and vice-principals, take home more than $100,000 of our money every year. 17 of these people work at the KPR office at Fisher Drive and seldom set foot in a classroom.

If KPR really were a full-fledged private enterprise, it would be accountable to its customers. If it tried to close a popular program, install unwanted WiFi systems, or control students’ communication with one another, parents would have the option of simply taking their tuition dollars elsewhere.

If KPR were truly a public institution, it would be accountable to taxpayers through its public representatives. But in Ontario, as documented in the past few posts, public supervision of its education dollars has been reduced to almost nothing. Bill 177, the “Student Achievement and School Board Governance Act” passed in 2009, instead of addressing the democratic deficit, made it worse by prohibiting Trustees from publicly criticizing school board decisions, as you can read here.

The near-complete absence of accountability on either free-enterprise or public-institution models means that KPR administrators have carte blanche to subject your children to WiFi radiation, shut down schools they don’t like, prohibit free speech on public property, and ignore public legislation with impunity, all while you foot the bill.

A third-party Operational Review of KPR conducted last year at this time found two significant problems with the board’s governance, even according to the province’s own meager requirements: they found that the roles of Director of Education and Chair of the Board of Trustees were not clearly delineated, and they found that Trustees were sitting on hiring committees for principals and vice-principals, contravening Bill 177. The review, which you can read here, recommends on pages 5 and 6 that action be taken to rectify these problems. No action has apparently been taken. What are the consequences for ignoring provincial legislation? None.

As documented in the “Making a Farce out of ARC” series on this blog in October, KPR administrators made little to no effort to update their Harris-era school closure policy over the past ten years, resulting in an illogical and contradictory document that did not meet provincial guidelines. They then abused this document to force a fully-enroled, centrally-located school to close on less than one year’s notice, contradicting the city’s official plan, the province’s Places to Grow Act, and the province’s own demographic projections calling for steady population growth in central Peterborough over the next twenty years. Facilitator Joan Green reviewed KPR’s abuses, but her report didn’t recommend that any action be taken to correct them. What are the consequences for ignoring public policy? None.

KPR spent more than $10 million on central administration last year. Here’s a list of the people at Fisher Drive to whom you’re paying six-figure salaries to play real-life “board games” with public dollars. As a group, they make more than $2 million a year.

William R. Hick, Director of Education: $206,258.55

John R. Lawrence, Superintendent of Education, Business and Corporate Services: $165,521.89

Scott A. Pollard, Superintendent of Education, Human Resource Services: $162,409.98

Jennifer Leclerc, Superintendent of Education, Teaching and Learning: $160,559.65

Catherine Foy, Superintendent of Education, Student Achievement: $151,313.40

Steven A. Girardi, Superintendent of Education, Student Achievement: $151,313.24

Martin J. Twiss, Superintendent of Education, Student Achievement: $151,222.32

Shelly G. Roy, Superintendent of Education, Student Achievement: $147,185.37

Peter A. Mangold, Superintendent of Education, Student Achievement: $142,725.49

Dean G. Macdonald, Senior Manager, Finance & Business Services: $122,519.19

Larry Piccinin, Senior Manager, Human Resources: $122,519.19

Ronald J. Plaizier, Chief Information Officer: $122,519.19

Mark A. Galonski, Controller of Facility Services: $122,519.11

Laura L. Doucette, Consultant: Literacy – Secondary: $101,553.11

Kellie A. Barron, Information and Communications Technology Director, Corporate Systems: $100,842.30

MPP Jeff Leal, to whom we’re also paying a comparable amount of money every year, has done nothing to address the democratic deficit at the school board level, nothing to head off the community disaster that closing PCVS will be, and has failed to respond to the legitimate concerns of his constituents, Peterborough city council, the Downtown Business Improvement Association, teachers, students, and taxpayers.

A demonstration at Leal’s downtown office is planned for this Friday, March 30th, at 1:30 pm.