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Monday, March 05, 2007


[UPDATED: This post appears to be very popular. This is the first of several posts about the same issue. I've created a new post at the top of the blog that links to all of the entries about the schools. I'll update it as news develops.]

Welcome to the blog. Please read the disclaimer at the top. Now read it again.

Welcome to the place where I post my own personal opinions about things that are important to me personally and that are not in any way official statements from anyone but me. (Got it???)

Okay, let's get started.

For the past couple of years, schools have been one of the hottest local issues. I myself inadvertently became the unofficial spokesperson for a group of parents who were furious with our local school board over its secret plan to convert the school across the road to an all-French school. So don't think that I am some sort of flag-waving fan of the public school board.

A bit of background is in order. There are two English school boards in town. YK#1 is the public board, where Michael goes to school. YCS is the Catholic board, except that they never really acted all that Catholic until about two years ago, when they suddenly decided they needed to build a legal case to prove that they were actually Catholic. They accept non-Catholics, they're funded by tax dollars, and so on.

I need to stop here and stress that both school boards have fabulous programs and excellent teachers. I also need to acknowledge that some of my readers will disagree with the things I am about to say. One of my friends is actually a YCS board member, and another is an uber-Catholic.

YK#1 has more schools and more space than YCS. Over the years, YCS took on so many students (mostly non-Catholic) that it was over capacity. Meanwhile, YK#1 was under capacity. YCS lobbied for a new school, but the government refused to build a new school when there were plenty of seats at YK#1. I can't say I disagree with this decision. It's my tax money, after all. The government threw the issue back into the laps of the two school boards to work out.

YK#1 offered to share a school. YCS refused to share. They wanted a YK#1 school. And that's where talks ended. YK#1 called a meeting for parents to find out what we wanted to do. Dozens of parents spoke at the microphone. Every single person said that we should share. Not one person said that we should hand over a school.

Then one of YCS's two elementary schools caught fire. An entire wing was unusable. During the clean-up, students had to be relocated. I want to stress that the YCS students were welcomed into YK#1 schools. We had always been willing to open our schools to them, but in this emergency situation, there was never any question that we would help in any way we could. Some students went to the YK#1 middle school for two months. Some needed a longer-term solution, so the French-immersion students went to Michael's school, which is English-only. At the time, many people commented that the students appeared to have been placed in unwelcoming surroundings on purpose. Why couldn't the French-immersion students have been relocated to a YK#1 school with French immersion? Why did they have to have separate recess and lunch periods? We thought this was weird, but figured that we would provide whatever they needed.

Six months later, it is time to start seriously planning for the next school year. And don't worry, the government is also seriously planning. The minister of education sent a letter to YK#1, which has been helpfully posted on the YK#1 website.

Go read it. I'm serious.

This letter is written in government double-speak, but fortunately I am a professional double-speak decoder and will help you through the main points.

The last time I discussed space issues with (you)...was last summer after the fire at Ecole St. Joseph School (St. Joe's). I haven't talked to you about this since the emergency last summer. You probably had no idea this letter was on its way.

We have reached a critical time with regard to space needs for students as the renovation planned for St. Joe's begins this fall.
It's getting late. I knew this was coming, which is why I put it off until the last possible moment. Now you have to do what I say.

Over the course of the renovation project, between 100-280 students will have to be relocated for two years. The other board needs space. And there's only one way for them to get it. You need to give them your space.

I believe the disruption to these students should be minimized, and...I see no reason for them to be housed in multiple schools in [NAME OF TOWN WITHHELD TO THWART THE SEARCH ENGINES]. Because these students are being taken from their school, they should not have to deal with extra trouble. All of the students who are displaced from St. Joe's should go to the same school. (Yes, this is confusing. I didn't get it myself until I read the entire letter a couple of times.)

We really need a solution now that will allow the renovation of St. Joe's to proceed this fall...I had hoped the Facilities Planning Committee would resolve this issue without my intervention; however, it has become apparent to me this issue will not be resolved without Ministerial direction. Because you won't play nice, I am going to tell you how it's going to be.

As you are aware, across Canada school boards are encouraged by the Province to close schools that are underused, and consolidate programming in order to achieve economies of scale. Our Government intends to follow a similar path. You heard me. That's a threat. I'm not afraid to close your school.

As a first step, both districts will be funded based on the relative classroom space requirement of each district in the 2007-2008 fiscal year. I'm changing the way you will be funded. Trust me, this means you'll be getting a funding cut.

This decision is also intended to encourage your District to lease the use of one school to YCS. You won't be able to afford to stay open unless you lease a school to YCS. Make plans now to empty a school and displace all of the students into other YK#1 schools.

The timing of the lease would also allow students displaced by the upcoming renovation of St. Joe's to continue to be accommodated. This is happening in September.

Lease payments would be restricted to the actual costs associated with the transition to the lease arrangement.
And don't think you're getting any extra money out of this arrangement.

I am so angry about this that I could spit. YCS kids can't be distributed among different schools, so we have to empty out OUR school and distribute OUR students among different schools?!? I don't think so. You know, I didn't even think of it as "our" school until YCS started demanding that we hand it over.

I figured that the minister would step in eventually to settle the dispute, but never in a million years did I think that THIS would be the decision.

YK#1 is holding a public meeting on Wednesday night. I'll provide an update after that meeting.