this blog entry has been updated
Editor's Note: this is a formal response to Hamilton Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) trustee Judith Bishop by We Need Three, a citizens' campaign to save Prince Philip School from closure.
We are saddened to see that our trustee, Judith Bishop, has not taken to heart the community feedback she requested in her March 2 email and blog posting.
Rather than listening to the overwhelming community support for the ARC's proposal, it would appear from her March 7 communication that she has again chosen to try to shape public opinion to favour her pre-determined decision.
Unfortunately, as with her March 2 email, many of her latest arguments do not reflect the facts as they were revealed in the course of the ARC.
The staff recommendation is not contingent on receiving Ministry approval for an estimated $2 million in additional funding. Any shortfall could be funded through future School Renewal Grants if additional Ministry funding was not forthcoming.
The staff recommendation [PDF] states that this funding must be generated by submitting a business case to the Ministry.
Nowhere in the staff recommendation, or at any time in the process of the ARC, was there any mention of this alternative source of funding.
It is a grave concern to us that this new source of funding has suddenly surfaced outside of the public process at a time when it might have the greatest impact on public opinion. Why has our Trustee not been trying to secure funding for our schools prior to this?
It is not clear if the School Renewal Grant fund is intended to be used in this way, or if the trustees must first vote on the allocation of funds before they are promised to individual projects, in which case this funding is not guaranteed either.
ReCAPP is based on a province-wide standard and is used as a tool by all 72 schools board (sic) throughout the province to assess their future renewal needs. Data from this tool is requested by the Ministry when applications for capital funding or claims of deferred savings are made.
It was stated by staff during the ARC process, and is now public knowledge, that the Ministry now recognizes the limitations of using ReCapp without accompanying inspections of actual building conditions, and will be implementing a new system in the next few years.
In the face of this, it is difficult to understand why our trustee continues to defend the uncritical use of ReCapp data for such far-reaching planning decisions.
This error (the data entry error that lead to the wrongful PTR designation) was shared at the first Public ARC meeting on April 6th, 2011. The presentation is available on the website at http://www.hwdsb.on.ca."
The PTR designation was discussed at the first public meeting, but the minutes [PDF] do not show any admission that it was done in error.
Board staff continued to provide this erroneous data to the ARC until three months into the process. When this was discovered, the ARC demanded the revised numbers, but they were not provided for another three months.
The full implication of the wrongful designation on the denial of capital investment in our schools was not revealed until a working group meeting AFTER the ARC had presented their proposal to the public.
Was PTR [the determination that Dalewood would be "prohibitive to repair"] a factor in the decision to do an ARC?
Accommodation reviews are just that - a review of accommodation of students in a group of buildings. The FCI numbers are one part of what the committee looks at when speaking about accommodation of students.
In the Dalewood ARC, for example, we know that in addition to the FCI, over the next 10 years capacity within those schools is expected to increase to 273 surplus pupil places.
In other words, yes. It was a factor. It wasn't the only factor, but the fact that our Facilities Condition Index (FCI) numbers were skewed by this error should have given the board pause before initiating this expensive, time-consuming process.
As for the enrollment issue, you can't simply go by the number of surplus pupil spaces when the real issue is the utilization rate. The board's enrollment projections are always suspect, but even they predict a utilization rate of 76% by the year 2020, which, given the fact that this is less than 10% below the board's ideal utilization rate of 85%, should not have been the trigger for an ARC either.
The board has been asked repeatedly to make public their business case for putting us into this ARC, but they have so far refused. If the wrongful PTR designation played as small a role in triggering this ARC as our trustee claims it did, she should urge staff to release this report.
Using the ReCAPP data, the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board has estimated that Prince Philip has future renewal needs totaling $3.2 million, $1.7 million of which are urgent. The closure of Prince Philip would result in termination of deferred maintenance of approximately $3.2 million.
It is upsetting to see this thoroughly discredited number being floated yet again as if it were an actual cost savings. We are at a loss to understand why our trustee is willing to sacrifice the credibility and good will she has built up over many years as a dedicated public servant in order to ensure the closure of Prince Philip.
Prince Philip has only been receiving about $10,000 in capital funding per year for a number of years now. At that rate, it would take 320 years for the board to realize this savings in deferred maintenance if Prince Philip is closed.
Nor would these 'savings' be put into reducing the deferred maintenance costs for GR Allan and Dalewood, as the board recommendation [PDF] shows these costs remaining unchanged, keeping us under threat of future closures.
Why is our trustee so intent on closing Prince Philip if it won't have the benefit of securing the long term future of GR Allan and Dalewood?
A request by the parent for an elevator to be provided does not have to be accommodated by the HWDSB.
This question was asked of staff several times during the ARC process and we were assured that if a parent pursued a request for an elevator to the HRC, HWDSB would indeed have to accommodate that request.
If the Staff proposal is accepted, in 2014 there would be the need for a portable at George R. Allan as there would still be some out of catchment students in the school. However, by 2016 it is predicted that it would not be needed and one of the basement class rooms could also be closed.
The only way that 650 students can be accommodated in a school with a 550 capacity without the use of at least 4 portables, is if we sacrifice our Core English and Core French rooms, and most likely our computer lab as well.
Add to this the loss of mature trees and greenspace, and it is clear that, far from creating the 'optimal learning environment' that our trustee claims, closing Prince Philip will have a negative impact on both programming and the quality of the learning environment at GR Allan.
It is disheartening that instead of listening to the wishes and expertise of her constituents, and accepting the evidence that clearly supports maintaining all three schools; our elected representative has chosen to turn this into a debate in an effort to shape public opinion to suit the board's ends.
Judith Bishop has always been a highly-respected, faithful public servant to our community. We are saddened by the breaking of that faith that her pursuit of the closure of Prince Philip has created.
Update 2012-03-26: Judith Bishop claimed that the Board acknowledged the wrongful PTR designation (based on inaccurate ReCAPP data) at the first public meeting, but this is not reflected in the minutes for that meeting. You can jump to the changed paragraph.
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