The battle over Prince Philip Elementary School’s planned closure is headed to court with a parent’s bid to overturn the decision by having the area’s trustee removed from office for an alleged conflict of interest in voting in favour of the move.
A Superior Court application filed by Mark Coakley argues Ward 1 and 2 trustee Judith Bishop should have declared a conflict because a related decision to spend $8.5 million to keep G.R. Allan school open will have a “positive effect” on her Westdale home’s value.
Bishop represents both schools, but G.R. Allan is about a 10 minute walk from her home, while Prince Philip is on Rifle Range Road, about a five-minute drive to the west.
G.R. Allan is being renovated and expanded to accommodate students at Prince Philip, scheduled to close in June of next year as part of a plan that will also spend $10.3 million to renovate Dalewood middle school.
The Feb. 22 application contends the location of Bishop’s home gave her a financial stake in keeping G.R. Allan open and her participation in discussion and votes violated the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act.
The allegations haven’t been proven in court.
Bishop declined to comment when approached after Monday’s board meeting, but said a school board insurance plan will cover her legal costs because the court action stems from her trustee duties.
Board chair Tim Simmons also declined to weigh in.
“I can’t comment on something before the courts,” he said.
Besides her removal from office, Coakley is seeking to have Bishop disqualified from sitting on the school board for seven years and a declaration the closure decision is “voidable” until April 30, 2014.
Coakley, an ex-lawyer-turned-author who has run for the Green Party provincially and also been active in the Liberal Party, referred all questions to his lawyer, Craig Burley.
Burley said the courts can’t overturn the closure decision under the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act, but can give trustees the option of reconsidering if Bishop is found to be in contravention.
He said trustees would have a moral obligation to do so because they only approved staff’s recommendation to close Prince Philip by a 6-5 vote.
Coakley’s wife, Nadia, sat on a volunteer accommodation review committee that urged trustees to keep all three schools open. Dalewood is also in Westdale.
“In our view there’s clearly a personal financial interest in the outcome of the decision,” said Burley, whose children also attend Prince Philip.
“This is being done to pay for improvements to G.R. Allan, that’s the central motivation to what has happened here,” he said. “Many of us who are parents with children at Prince Philip or people who live in that community think that’s not fair.”
The court action is the latest move by parents upset by Prince Philip’s closure. A previous bid led by Burley for an administrative review of the decision was rejected by the Ministry of Education last summer.
Trustees on Feb. 11 confirmed their decision to proceed with the closure plan, prompting Flamborough representative Karen Turkstra to resign as chair of the finance advisory subcommittee.
She objected to spending nearly $19 million on G.R. Allan and Dalewood, arguing doing so will leave the board short for other capital priorities, including renovating Highland Secondary School in Dundas to accommodate Parkside students when their school closes in June 2014.