By Craig Campbell, Dundas Star News
A group that appealed the west accommodation review process, which resulted in a recommendation to close Parkside Secondary School, said an independent review verifies the process's flaws with its own contradictions.
Margaret Wilson’s report finds the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board violated its own policy for accommodation review, but that the violation had no impact on the final decision and there would be no value in repeating the process.
Tim Leslie of Parkside Works said Wilson’s report shows the community had no significant effect on the ARC discussions, or the board’s final decision.
“It seems totally contradictory,” Leslie said of Wilson’s report, which was released publicly last week. “Her analysis of the situation completely ignored what we said and took the board’s view. Our criticisms of the process still stand – they weren’t dealt with.”
This week, the province announced funding for three HWDSB capital projects, but no money for a new school in Dundas and no money for renovations to Highland Secondary School. It's not clear how this will affect the recommendation to close Parkside and move all high school students to Highland.
Leslie pointed to a section of Wilson’s report, summarizing her meeting with West ARC committee members. She notes a voting member, who was neither from Highland or Parkside, said the committee did not deal properly with delegations that had concrete ideas and that “this member believes that the current Accommodation review process does not meet the test of procedural fairness required by Common Law.”
Wilson’s report states that board trustees told her, in a private meeting, that Dundas is still opposed to amalgamation with the City of Hamilton, and that the community of Dundas consists of “two solitudes” comprised of “old and new” Dundas, each fighting for their own neighbourhood school.
Leslie said this was “dismissive” of the arguments in favour of Parkside – many of which Wilson’s report appears to accept.
Wilson states School Information Profiles provided to ARC members failed Parkside by indicating the school had no playing fields or outdoor facilities.
“There are serious flaws in the document,” Wilson stated in her report.
She goes on to say: “….I must emphasize that the facilities of the Driving Park are excellent in both scope and condition…they are accessible to students as if the board owned the park.”
“The park is a critical element in some of the school’s programming.”
Wilson’s report states that Highland’s “running track is in such poor condition that it is not used. The tennis courts are poorly maintained.”
She reports Highland’s classrooms and science labs are significantly smaller than those at Parkside.
But Wilson states trustees told her enrollment projections mean only one high school can remain in Dundas and they decided “there was more flexibility and a better chance of meeting 21st Century programming needs if they built on the larger Highland site, which they owned, rather than the tight Parkside site.”
Wilson’s report notes Parkside is built on a 4.6-acre lot and takes up most of that space, but features free use of the 26-acre Driving Park next door. She notes Highland is on a site totalling 17.83 acres.
She concludes that the board made its recommendation to close Parkside based on the size and perceived flexibility of the Highland site, and the Board’s ownership of the entire acreage.
“….while there was a violation of Board Policy, it had no significant effect on either the discussions of the ARC or the final decision of the Board,” Wilson concludes. “There is no evidence that repeating the ARC process would produce additional information which might change the outcome. The final decision was made, following a detailed consultative process, by well-informed Trustees.”
Wilson’s report paints a picture of a West ARC committee that was under pressure and had difficulty coming to conclusions.
She suggests no less than five changes to the HWDSB’s ARC process. She questioned the decision to leave Waterdown District Secondary School out of the review and states including it would have provided a more transparent process and “was no more irrelevant than having Westdale at the table.”
Wilson suggests the board reconsider how it decides on school groupings especially when boundaries are an issue – as she notes they were in the West ARC.
She suggests redesigning the SIP documents with a standard rating system, and that they be updated with corrected information.
“When the promise of addition and correction of the SIPs is made it should be kept,” Wilson states.
She suggests a “serious reduction” in the number and length of staff presentations to future ARC committees.
Wilson suggests removing municipal councillors from the committee roster, and that if more than one ARC is running at the same time that both committees formally exchange information on a regular basis.
Board of trustees chair Tim Simmons said he’s pleased Wilson’s review upheld the board’s process.
“We accept the report’s findings that the Board made an error with the school information profiles,” Simmons stated in an email.
He said the documents were overly technical and lacked clarity regarding qualitative information – but points out Wilson’s finding that information was available in discussions and had no significant impact.
Simmons said the board will consider Wilson’s suggestions as it reviews its accommodation review policy.
“There are a number of good suggestions that will be looked at in relation to the revised policy,” Simmons said.
But for Leslie and the appellants at Parkside Works, those suggestions don’t appear to have much value.
And while both the school board and community await the province’s funding decisions to see what might happen to Dundas’ two high schools, Parkside Works intends to continue its efforts supporting an alternate proposal to that of closing Parkside and building new, or renovating Highland.
“We have other avenues we’re pursuing,” Leslie said.