Thursday, 7 June 2012

Joan Green's Report and Osgoode Hall

Yesterday, legal representatives for Peterborough Needs PCVS made their case before the court in Osgoode Hall as part of the ongoing judicial review of KPR’s ill-conceived attempt to close PCVS.

Osgoode Hall, a designated heritage building
One bit of information made public in the session was the employment of educational consultant Joan Green by KPR five years ago. Green, whose leading role in the development of the EQAO standardized-testing office suggests a dedication to the remote-control, one-size-fits-all, corporate-style approach to educational management, was appointed last winter by the Minister to review the PCVS case.

According to provincial policy, the Minister is supposed to appoint an “Independent Facilitator” to review contentious school closing procedures. Indeed, Green refers to herself as “independent” on the first page of her report. Given that she is a former employee of both the Ministry-mandated EQAO office and KPR itself, it is obvious that Green was anything but an “independent facilitator.”

That report, dated February 17th, suggests that KPR’s drive to close PCVS – and thereby make Peterborough the only city in Ontario without any regular English-language school services available to an entire city ward – was done with the knowledge and backing of Queen’s Park. Green’s report stays so firmly “inside the box” that one would think it had been prepared by KPR administrators themselves. And given that Green was not long ago contracted by KPR, this isn’t far from the truth.

A community furor was raised when Green’s report was finally released to the public late in March – some five weeks after the February 17th date. The long delay suggests that neither the Ministry, Laurel Broten herself, nor the Liberal caucus had any interest in intervening in KPR’s plans to undermine the social and economic fabric of Peterborough while dismantling its most successful secondary school, which has been a model of inclusiveness, engagement and achievement that would be the envy of any school board in North America. This in spite of the fact that our own Liberal MPP, Jeff Leal, is well aware of the negative impacts closing PCVS would have on Peterborough.

On the contrary, the long delay, the appointment of Green, and the failure of her report to address the realities of KPR’s embarrassing abuse of the accommodation review process all suggest that the opposite was true. The powers at Queen’s Park seem to have felt the need to “circle the wagons” to protect the backroom decision-making privileges of both the Ministry and school board officials – at the expense of common-sense, the well-being of Peterborough citizens, and the prospects for Peterborough’s future development in accordance with the Places to Grow Act.

Delaying the report had the effect of delaying the launch of the judicial review by Peterborough Needs PCVS, as the legal action couldn’t justifiably begin before its release.

Had the report called for KPR to return to the negotiating table with the community, the judicial review would not have been warranted at present. Because the sanitized report Green did make refused the practical obligation to call out KPR for a consultation process which nearly everyone involved agreed was farcical and fruitless, and for the board's utter lack of regard for the community it supposedly serves, the report necessitated the privately-launched judicial review. The delay in releasing it directly resulted in the delay in bringing the case to court, and yesterday KPR’s lawyers used this consequent delay in their defense, arguing that it is now too late for the board to change course for next year.

According to the report, Green managed to “convince” herself of a wide range of questionable assertions during her review of KPR’s slipshod accommodation review process. Plainly disregarding what was evident to almost everyone involved, Green wrote, “I am convinced that most [teaching] staff felt free to participate in the ARC process and that they were not directed to refrain from comment” (p.23). Green also wrote that she “believe[s] that the Board considered the range of social and economic impacts that school closure has on communities” (p.18).

Green apparently accepted uncritically KPR’s incredible claim that no partnership opportunities exist for its facilities, writing “the fact is that there are no viable partnership possibilities with the exception of the potential use of some space in one of the Board’s facilities by Trent University” – a statement obviously without any merit whatsoever (p.24).

If Green really does believe these claims, there must be a line-up of people trying to sell her Florida swampland, used cars, and books about Nibiru’s impending collision with Earth.

In her “General Observations,” Green wrote that she was sure that most people involved with the accommodation review process would consider it “exhaustive and exhausting” (p.32). This statement is patently ridiculous even in its own context, as the report acknowledges the many deficiencies in the process, which was as simplistic as it could be possibly be, and certainly not remotely close to “exhaustive.” If a series of four public meetings over four months can be called “exhausting,” it is hard to imagine what adjective Green would apply to accommodation review processes around the province which typically include up to twenty meetings spanning a year or more.

In conclusion, Green summarized the many shortcomings of KPR’s policy and procedures, and suggested improvements. Given the importance of PCVS to Peterborough, the contentiousness of the plan, and the fact that both Peterborough trustees voted against closing the school (not mentioned in the report), one would think that the very existence of so many obvious shortcomings would suggest that KPR should be sent back to the drawing board.

Instead, Green’s report defended the rights of school boards to disregard provincial policy, put on a sham consultation process giving the impression of public accountability, and move ahead with predetermined decisions made behind the scenes with no regard to either the greater public interest or the input given by the people who actually use the schools.

The scope of the judicial review case now being heard at Osgoode Hall is wider than Green’s narrow report – but only slightly. In effect, the judges hearing the case will be making a decision on the highest-profile school closure in Ontario’s history with major ramifications for the public interest, based not on the substance of the place of PCVS in Peterborough, but on legislative technicalities.

If they decide in favour of KPR, the door will be wide open for school boards to entirely disregard provincial policy statements, community input, and the interest of municipalities. The sloppiness and arrogance of KPR administrators and trustees will be established as the benchmark for tolerable incompetence among public bodies. Any pretense to public accountability may then be confidently shed by every other school board, knowing that there is literally nothing citizens can do to contest any decision, no matter how absurd, or how many rules were bent or broken in making it.

KPR’s existing policy enables administrators to close any school without any rational justification or provocation, on one year’s notice, against the wishes of a community’s elected trustees. If the judges decide in KPR’s favour, the autocratic power to decide how to spend hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ dollars with no representation from the taxpayers themselves will be established as the norm across the province, and indeed across the country.

They will be setting a precedent as damaging to the public school system as a previous judicial review decision, on Trent’s downtown colleges, was to the governance of universities across Canada.


  1. Perhaps my favourite post yet. :) Nicely summarized.

  2. the battle to save PCVS is an extension of the fight for quality public education which is an extension of the fight for responsible government, ie, one which supports the notion of certain freedoms being the right of all people. The coordinated efforts of the KPR school board with the the provincial government and (in all likelihood) with the provincial legal system, along with many other disturbing signs in our society, suggest that we are witnessing seeing a roll back of some of the gains made in freedoms held by the common man in a strategic and deceptive manner.

    It will be of utmost importance to be prepared for a decision by the courts for the KPR board and against the community (as represented by those who submitted the affidavits). We need to be prepared with sustainable and strategic methods for the continued fight to create the society we want to see for ourselves and for our children to live in. The alternative is to accept our new, more subserivient role and diminished freedoms determined by a privileged class who seem to have only their own interests in mind.