“We are here hoping to find direction from you.” said Maureen O’Shaughnessy, lead consultant and chief spokesperson for the Imagine Our Schools process.
It is unlikely she did. In a meeting that stretched to over three hours long, there was not a lot clear and unequivocal direction to be found. Held at Citadel High, about 150 parents and administrators took in a slide show presenting four options, based on “community input.”
Here is what we saw:
The projections showing building use are based on the Department of Education’s calculations, which counts classrooms as empty that are being used for internal or external uses for which they were not originally intended. What that means is our schools are not as empty as the projections say they are, which means the whole basis for the planning is incorrect.
The proposals tracks projected per school populations and projected schools size in the same way, treating them as the same thing. Either the proposal is to build schools that in 2018 would be full, used between100-120%, or alternately, the proposal is really to build schools that are 20% bigger than what the community is supposed to have asked for, either way, there is a lack of honesty in the way the issues were presented (see the next article, another proposal for the peninsula).
The consultants did not give us a choice for smaller junior highs. Ms. O’Shaughnessy said several times “The community felt that 500 capacity junior highs are preferred.” The 500 student option was the smallest option available on the questionnaire. The survey results cannot be called a clear call for change, and in no way indicate a desire for schools that size.
The sudden appearance of new material in the public presentation that was left out of the School Advisory Council presentation further marginalizes the school communities. At this late stage to suddenly have the consultants introduce the idea that early French Immersion should be abandoned is nonsense. Clearly that direction came from politicians or the Department of Education, as there was no opportunity for the public to propose this change.
Having beautiful new buildings does not mean we will have more money for programming. Program enhancements and new spaces for learning is meaningless when there is no money for more teachers and support staff. ESL, Afri-centric programming, student support, enrichment, special needs, guidance, and most of all, class size cannot be changed without a massive infusion of new operational money.
There is no consultation in this process. Four times SAC reps, sometimes with citizens and parents have been called into a room to be talked at. There is no group work, no systematic polling of views, no table work, no meaningful dialog between parents and the consultants.
Once we had under an hour to complete an eleven page questionnaire full of loaded questions and with no chance to review it in advance. At no point were the SACs actually polled, or any idea voted on. In the last meeting we sat there in stunned silence, unable to decide where to begin.
This is not what we were promised. In June Carol Olsen promised that each family of schools SACs would meet and that parents, municipal councilors, community reps with staff and consultant support would create the proposal that would go to Mr. Windsor. Now, we have little to no voice at all in a process that will see consultants submit a plan that has little to no support in the community. This is not what the Minister ordered the school board to do, and it is not what the changes to the Act require.
Toward the end of the second hour of the meeting last night, the consultants were asked “How do you tell what direction we want?” Ms. O’Shaughnessy said “if a bunch of people clap” that they know they have support. This is simply not good enough.
Howard Windsor refused a request to meet with the SACs in the fall to discuss concerns about this process.
Now the process has broken and the only choice left to parents to to appeal to the Minister and Cabinet to create clear, step by step guidelines as to exactly how school capital plan process must be conducted by all school boards.