Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Leal Says the Right Things to Students - But Where Is the Action?

Students marched from PCVS to MPP Jeff Leal’s office late Friday morning, March 30th, engaging in their own “professional activity” for the KPR secondary “PA day,” instead of staying home and playing video games, as KPR administrators appear to prefer their students to do.

After a good ninety minutes of chanting, speaking, singing, and mural-making (being joined in the meantime by a group of disgruntled Kawartha Downs workers and their horses, upset with the Ontario government’s decision to remove slot machines from the racetracks and end the revenue-sharing agreement they’d had), the students and concerned citizens finally managed to get an audience with Leal.

In the meantime, PC candidate Alan Wilson, who ran against Leal in last fall’s election, told students outside to keep pressuring Leal to pressure McGuinty to intervene to keep the school open. Green Party candidate Michael Bell also addressed the crowd, commenting on the old-fashioned thinking endemic to public administration.

When Leal did arrive, he stood up to spout the same rhetoric with which he’s been answering everyone – essentially, claiming that doing the absolute bare minimum he’s asked to do as MPP should be enough to satisfy his constituents. Some people demanded that Leal meet with KPR’s own “Dolores Umbridge,” Peter Mangold, immediately. Leal pledged to do so, but failed to publicly acknowledge that his own government is responsible for creating the conditions which have allowed the hostile takeover of central Peterborough by unaccountable out-of-town forces.

What - me worry?

Leal did observe, correctly, that KPR's provincially-funded budget has increased nearly 50% in the past ten years while the number of students it serves has dropped significantly. While this came across as mere Liberal government cheerleading, the comment does draw attention to the strange economic reality of education funding - the lower the proportion of children and teens in our society, the more adult taxpayers there are to support the education system.

Translation? There is no "funding crisis" which would force KPR to shut down schools. It's only a matter of how boards choose to spend their constituents' money. And KPR has decided that spending $5 million on WiFi and computer toys likely to last only last five years is preferable to spending $5 million operating PCVS over the same period.

Leal also said that he had scheduled a meeting with Minister of Education Laurel Broten for Monday, April 2nd to pass along a citizens' request for a "supervisor" to be appointed to investigate KPR's options for dealing with the so-called "programming" issues around smaller schools.

KPR, you'll remember, claims that shutting down PCVS will allow more course-options to be offered to Peterborough students overall. The "viability report" written by former long-serving Peterborough-area principals Joanne Brown, Shirl Delarue and Nancy Chesher argues that shutting down PCVS and moving the Integrated Arts program to TASSS will not have this effect because IA students don't have room in their schedules to take a variety of courses. Already, eleven courses originally offered for next year at TASSS have reportedly been cancelled.

Moreover, while IA enrolment will remain stable regardless of where the program is located, regular enrolment at TASSS will naturally continue to decline, as shown in "The ARC that Should Have Been" series on this blog in early February. You can read the "viability report" for yourself on the Peterborough Needs PCVS website, here.

The viability report also shows that closing PCVS will not address the issue of the number of surplus pupil places in Peterborough secondary schools. What the report doesn't point out is that this is exactly what KPR administrators and out-of-town trustees want, giving them an excuse to close another Peterborough high school in five years.

Many have speculated that Kenner will be next to go. However, Adam Scott appears to be the more likely candidate, because its facilities are in the worst condition of any city school, it's located only 1 km from TASSS, and by having already committed big bucks to cleaning out and upgrading TASSS these past few months, KPR has sent a signal that TASSS is the north-end basket into which they intend to put as many eggs as they can. Look for more on this scheme and rationale in a future post.

Outside his office, Leal claimed not to know why Minister of Education Laurel Broten let the Joan Green report on the PCVS closure sit on her desk for five weeks, and further claimed that he hadn't seen it until the public did. Really? Later, in his meeting with students, Leal claimed that he had been talking about PCVS with his caucus for the past four or five months, prompting concerned citizens to ask what's the real story?

Leal said he supported the request for the appointment of a supervisor based on the comments made on page 24 of the Green report (available on the Peterborough Needs PCVS website), which shows that KPR failed to pursue avenues for public partnerships for the school facilities, an observation also made in the viability report. 
At last, student leaders Matthew Finlan, Kirsten Bruce, Collin Chepeka, Christina Adams and Sebastian Lathangue were granted a meeting with Leal in the front room of his office, visible from the street. The meeting, and the public comments made by Leal, was captured on video and posted on YouTube. You can watch it here. It's about thirteen minutes long, so you might want to skip through the first few minutes of chanting to get to the actual discussions (which have plenty of chanting in the background).

Leal told the students that he opposes amalgamated school boards, and acknowledges the inherent problems with a system which allows trustees elected from one municipality to make decisions for others. "I've never seen an amalgamation that actually saves money," said Leal, "and on the downside, you dilute your political representation."

Leal admits that Peterborough city and county were the "losers" in the Harris government's creation of KPR fifteen years ago, and said that in his opinion, there is "serious question of governance" in Ontario school boards. When pressed by the students on making a commitment to effect a change of legislation which would give more authority to local trustees, Leal said he would commit to an "examination" of the idea, and would speak to the Minister of Education about it this week.

Chepeka made the feelings of thousands of Peterborough citizens and taxpayers crystal clear when he told Leal "it's now or never for you to stand up and represent us. We need your government to take control of this situation."

Finlan told Leal that the imposing of “Educational Decree Number 24” banning "Raiders in Action" meetings at PCVS was “the straw that broke the camel’s back,” as reported in this MyKawartha article. "We are outraged at the way we've been treated," said Finlan, rightfully.

Leal responded that he understood the students' passion for education, commenting that his wife is an elementary principal in Peterborough. Karan Leal was in fact just recently promoted by the Catholic board from VP at St. Catherine's in the west end to principal at St. Patrick's in the south-east corner of the city, around the corner from Otonabee Valley public school, as reported in this Examiner article. 

Our MPP made his awareness of the irrational system of school board governance in Ontario clear to the students last Friday. He claims to have been discussing the problems with amalgamated school boards with his Liberal colleagues. He says that he'll keep talking with the Premier and the Minister of Education about the issue, and about PCVS.  

But Leal, McGuinty, and their Liberal crew have been in office for nine years now, leaving in place almost all of the Harris government's ridiculous reforms. Last week's Ontario budget, which you can read here, calls for further school board amalgamations as the Liberal government flails around desperately looking for ways to reduce the deficit without actually taking the most obvious, sensible solution: raising taxes slightly on the province's most wealthy, a plan proposed by Ontario doctors in this public message reported in yesterday's Toronto Star, and positively commented on by Star columnist Thomas Walkom two weeks ago, as you can read here.

The group, "Doctors for Fair Taxation," argues that the Liberal plan to balance the budget on the backs of middle and lower income earners is foolish and will only cause more expensive social and health problems in the long run. The doctors call for NDP leader Andrea Horwath to pressure McGuinty to accept their plan, which would raise an additional $1.7 billion annually in taxes for the province, making most of the service cuts proposed in the budget unnecessary. Don Drummond, the Liberal financial adviser whose infamous "Drummond report" suggested many of the cuts, admitted at the outset that Ontario's per-capita spending is the lowest in Canada already. How much lower do the Liberals expect us to go?

The bottom line is: does Leal really want to go down in history as the man who let Peterborough’s most venerable institution get shut down by out-of-towners?
Leal would have to be thick as a brick not to sense that the Liberal party is in trouble in Peterborough.

Is he not aware that he and his party are about to lose the support of the downtown business community, property owners, doctors, and teachers – while at the same time allowing KPR to undermine his own government’s supposed efforts to support urban development, promote public health, increase the high school graduation rate, and solve the bullying problem?

The biggest single favour any provincial government has done for Peterborough happened when the NDP moved the Ministry of Natural Resources to Peterborough twenty years ago. And thank the lord they did.

Now, as a result of Liberal inaction, Peterborough's downtown is about to be stripped of its northern anchor, PCVS, a move plainly contradicting the public interest and sure to hollow out our city's center.

While McGuinty labours to get the NDP to support a budget which lets the rich folks keep their cash while freezing the pay of overworked teachers, the Rick Mercer Report on CBC tonight, April 3rd, will shine a brief spotlight on PCVS, the most valuable asset in the KPR portfolio, which control-freaks and power-addicts at Fisher Drive are about to pawn in a vain attempt to buy their way into techno-bigbox heaven

Thanks to Mercer, more than a few Canadians will develop a better appreciation for PCVS in a five-minute TV segment this week than the KPR bean-counters have been capable of developing while on their full-time, six-figure-salary jobs, so graciously funded by the very people whose voices and interests they continue to blithely ignore. 

1 comment:

  1. So no to wifi and electronics such as computers in the schools? Shall we get out the slate and chalk again? We live in an increasingly technical age and if we don't keep up then we get left behind.