Hamilton school closure process ‘fundamentally broken,’ chair says

News Apr 23, 2015 by Richard Leitner Hamilton Mountain News

The chair of Hamilton’s public school board says he’s hopeful new provincial guidelines on school closures will fix a “fundamentally broken” process by making it more open, transparent and accountable.

Todd White said he likes that volunteer accommodation review committees, or ARCs, will now play an advisory role and no longer be asked to hold votes on closure options that can pit school communities against one another.

They will instead critique staff recommendations and offer alternatives as they see fit, while serving as “a conduit” to share information between the board and members of the public, who can then argue for or against any option directly to trustees, he said.

“We want the advisory committee to have the freedom and autonomy to solicit the discussions in the community and present their findings, but at the end of the day this is a trustee process,” White said.

“We’re not trying to create a screen for trustees and create a mini-board of trustees who will be responsible for the information and decision-making. That’s a trustee decision.”

In other key changes, prior to initiating any review, staff must first consult the city and other interested parties, and then prepare a report with one or more closure options, including a recommended one, and provide all supporting information.

Trustees must then advise the city and the consulted parties within five days of approving the report to invite their comments.

The report must detail how any closure options will affect student accommodation, programs, transportation and school buildings, as well as how the board plans to pay for any required capital upgrades.

That’s a change from recent closure studies, which saw the reports and their supporting information released at the first review committee meeting, at times prompting criticisms details were incomplete or withheld if they didn’t suit staff’s preferred option.

Trustees last week took their first step toward revising their school-closure rules to align with the new provincial guidelines during a special four-hour meeting of the policy committee.

They largely stuck with the provincial framework, but recommended review committees add teacher and community representatives to the required minimum of parent or guardian members from affected schools.

They also recommended committee representatives be invited to present their final findings directly to trustees, rather than simply have them included in staff’s final report as allowed under the guidelines.

White said staff will next prepare a scoping report for trustees’ approval to guide the drafting of a proposed new school closure policy that will go out for public consultation.

Trustees have put all accommodation reviews on indefinite hold – including ones scheduled this fall for six elementary schools in Stoney Creek, three on the east and central Mountain, and nine in the city’s lower west end – as they revise the policy.

Trustee Dawn Danko, whose central Mountain ward went through a closure study that will shutter three schools in June, said she’s concerned about the review committees’ information role because they’ve not always been responsive to the public.

She said she had to file 24 freedom-of-information requests during her area’s review because she couldn’t get answers through the committee.

“The public feels they’re shut out of the process and that’s when it becomes inflammatory,” she said.

But White said anyone who isn’t satisfied with responses to their questions can ask trustees, who will ensure they get answers.

Hamilton school closure process ‘fundamentally broken,’ chair says

News Apr 23, 2015 by Richard Leitner Hamilton Mountain News

The chair of Hamilton’s public school board says he’s hopeful new provincial guidelines on school closures will fix a “fundamentally broken” process by making it more open, transparent and accountable.

Todd White said he likes that volunteer accommodation review committees, or ARCs, will now play an advisory role and no longer be asked to hold votes on closure options that can pit school communities against one another.

They will instead critique staff recommendations and offer alternatives as they see fit, while serving as “a conduit” to share information between the board and members of the public, who can then argue for or against any option directly to trustees, he said.

“We want the advisory committee to have the freedom and autonomy to solicit the discussions in the community and present their findings, but at the end of the day this is a trustee process,” White said.

“The public feels they’re shut out of the process and that’s when it becomes inflammatory.”

“We’re not trying to create a screen for trustees and create a mini-board of trustees who will be responsible for the information and decision-making. That’s a trustee decision.”

In other key changes, prior to initiating any review, staff must first consult the city and other interested parties, and then prepare a report with one or more closure options, including a recommended one, and provide all supporting information.

Trustees must then advise the city and the consulted parties within five days of approving the report to invite their comments.

The report must detail how any closure options will affect student accommodation, programs, transportation and school buildings, as well as how the board plans to pay for any required capital upgrades.

That’s a change from recent closure studies, which saw the reports and their supporting information released at the first review committee meeting, at times prompting criticisms details were incomplete or withheld if they didn’t suit staff’s preferred option.

Trustees last week took their first step toward revising their school-closure rules to align with the new provincial guidelines during a special four-hour meeting of the policy committee.

They largely stuck with the provincial framework, but recommended review committees add teacher and community representatives to the required minimum of parent or guardian members from affected schools.

They also recommended committee representatives be invited to present their final findings directly to trustees, rather than simply have them included in staff’s final report as allowed under the guidelines.

White said staff will next prepare a scoping report for trustees’ approval to guide the drafting of a proposed new school closure policy that will go out for public consultation.

Trustees have put all accommodation reviews on indefinite hold – including ones scheduled this fall for six elementary schools in Stoney Creek, three on the east and central Mountain, and nine in the city’s lower west end – as they revise the policy.

Trustee Dawn Danko, whose central Mountain ward went through a closure study that will shutter three schools in June, said she’s concerned about the review committees’ information role because they’ve not always been responsive to the public.

She said she had to file 24 freedom-of-information requests during her area’s review because she couldn’t get answers through the committee.

“The public feels they’re shut out of the process and that’s when it becomes inflammatory,” she said.

But White said anyone who isn’t satisfied with responses to their questions can ask trustees, who will ensure they get answers.

Hamilton school closure process ‘fundamentally broken,’ chair says

News Apr 23, 2015 by Richard Leitner Hamilton Mountain News

The chair of Hamilton’s public school board says he’s hopeful new provincial guidelines on school closures will fix a “fundamentally broken” process by making it more open, transparent and accountable.

Todd White said he likes that volunteer accommodation review committees, or ARCs, will now play an advisory role and no longer be asked to hold votes on closure options that can pit school communities against one another.

They will instead critique staff recommendations and offer alternatives as they see fit, while serving as “a conduit” to share information between the board and members of the public, who can then argue for or against any option directly to trustees, he said.

“We want the advisory committee to have the freedom and autonomy to solicit the discussions in the community and present their findings, but at the end of the day this is a trustee process,” White said.

“The public feels they’re shut out of the process and that’s when it becomes inflammatory.”

“We’re not trying to create a screen for trustees and create a mini-board of trustees who will be responsible for the information and decision-making. That’s a trustee decision.”

In other key changes, prior to initiating any review, staff must first consult the city and other interested parties, and then prepare a report with one or more closure options, including a recommended one, and provide all supporting information.

Trustees must then advise the city and the consulted parties within five days of approving the report to invite their comments.

The report must detail how any closure options will affect student accommodation, programs, transportation and school buildings, as well as how the board plans to pay for any required capital upgrades.

That’s a change from recent closure studies, which saw the reports and their supporting information released at the first review committee meeting, at times prompting criticisms details were incomplete or withheld if they didn’t suit staff’s preferred option.

Trustees last week took their first step toward revising their school-closure rules to align with the new provincial guidelines during a special four-hour meeting of the policy committee.

They largely stuck with the provincial framework, but recommended review committees add teacher and community representatives to the required minimum of parent or guardian members from affected schools.

They also recommended committee representatives be invited to present their final findings directly to trustees, rather than simply have them included in staff’s final report as allowed under the guidelines.

White said staff will next prepare a scoping report for trustees’ approval to guide the drafting of a proposed new school closure policy that will go out for public consultation.

Trustees have put all accommodation reviews on indefinite hold – including ones scheduled this fall for six elementary schools in Stoney Creek, three on the east and central Mountain, and nine in the city’s lower west end – as they revise the policy.

Trustee Dawn Danko, whose central Mountain ward went through a closure study that will shutter three schools in June, said she’s concerned about the review committees’ information role because they’ve not always been responsive to the public.

She said she had to file 24 freedom-of-information requests during her area’s review because she couldn’t get answers through the committee.

“The public feels they’re shut out of the process and that’s when it becomes inflammatory,” she said.

But White said anyone who isn’t satisfied with responses to their questions can ask trustees, who will ensure they get answers.