Friday, 2 May 2014

On Friday, May 02, 2014 by PWSParents
Community Complaints Overview
Community Complaints Continued 2
Community Complaints Continued 3
Community Complaint Continued 4

5. Complaints - transparency, information, mandate, interference, community input, etc.

The hallmarks of the current review are more disconcerting than unreliable information and lack of community input. The community has complained about staff’s refusal to follow Board policies and recognize school boundaries and cap enrolment. Community complaints about the review include lack of transparency, erroneous information, withheld information, exceeded mandate, impeded community input, Board inaction and staff interference with elected Board members and volunteer committee members. The review should be stopped.

6. Lack of transparency – Terms of Reference and a school closure by another name

Board and staff gave notice to the community that the boundary review pertains to school catchment areas (The Terms of Reference and Information Pamphlet are discussed in Part 9), but instead, are seeking to: (1) use the boundary review process to close the junior high portion of Park West School; and (2) send the students to Fairview and Clayton Park in which there are one or more underutilized schools.
On January 27th, staff presented the enrolments of several schools; which showed schools in the same neighborhoods (Fairview and Clayton Park) with significant underutilization – of the magnitude of 1,200 seats :
* Fairview Junior High and Fairview Heights Elementary are adjacent schools and have a combined underutilization of 627 (461+166). Burton Ettinger School has an underutilization of 226. It is 1.3 km from Fairview Heights Elementary;
* Clayton Park Junior High and Duc d’Anville Elementary are 500 m apart and have a combined underutilization of 369 (198+171).
All of the above schools are within 2.4 km of each other.  If the underlying school population issue is actually an underutilization of facilities, the Board should stop the review and initiate a school closure process. In any event, with knowledge of the significant underutilization, the Board should be examining whether the best possible learning environments would be achieved by closing one or more schools in Fairview and Clayton Park.
On March 12, 2014, the Superintendent advised that although he has the ability to close a school (in Fairview and Clayton Park) he would not do so because closing schools is not popular with the public and would create backlash in those communities.
The Superintendent also advised that he refuses to determine the accurate student population in the Park West area by requiring proof of address, despite knowing that it could impact a current boundary review. He was also asked to provide the Boundary Review Committee with the accurate information on the functional capacity for Park West; which he refused. He stated that the information is available online to the Committee and they should be able to source it themselves. When asked why staff would not provide the Committee with the information required to perform their duties he stated that “it was up to the Boundary Review Committee members to request it”.
It is noteworthy that the Superintendent advised that he had or will be recommending to the elected Board members that they: (1) not communicate with Park West parents until after the committee has put forth its recommendation; and (2) limit Park West parents’ time to speak to the elected Board at a public meeting. It is also noteworthy that a Park West parent’s request to address the Board at its February 26th public meeting was denied.

7. Erroneous information 

Community complaints include erroneous information provided to Board members, volunteer committee members and the community:
Historical enrolment: It was represented to the Board that “there is a positive migration pattern that has continued to cause increased enrolment for a number of years”;
FACT: The enrolment has not increased in the past several years.
Current enrolment: It was represented to the Board that enrolment was 799 (September 2013);
FACT: The current enrolment is 783.
Projected enrolment: It was represented to the Board that enrolment is increasing. In a January 26th email to the PTA Chair, the Superintendent stated there was “growing enrollment in the communities of Park West and Grosvenor-Wentworth”;
FACT: In her June 18, 2009, Imagine Our Schools public presentation, consultant Maureen O’Shaughnessy projected a decline in enrolment to 625 in 2018-19 and recommended short term accommodation by portable classrooms.  In January 2014, the community projected a decline in enrolment by 30 students per year, providing an enrolment of 693 in September 2016. (Current enrolment in grades P-2 are 30 students per grade fewer than grades 7-9.) In February 2014, staff reported that enrolment is projected to decrease.
School capacity: It was represented to the Board that the capacity had a “range of 630-660”;
FACT: In March 2014, the Superintendent acknowledged that “functional” capacity includes portables; which would provide for a school capacity of 730 - 810 (enrolment is within the range).
Space utilization: It was represented to the Board that “a number of the specialty spaces are being used as homerooms”;
FACT: The art room was moved and is taught in another room. Its original room is being used as a homeroom.
[2] Although there are differences between school closure and boundary reviews, similarities of stakeholders, interests, processes, impact and community complaints make reference to school reviews relevant and instructive for boundary reviews.
[3] 627 + 226 + 369 = 1,222.
[4]  Imagine Our Schools, South Central & South West HRM Recommendations to the Halifax Regional School Board (June 2009) at 75.