BROCKVILLE, Ontario – A motion put forth by Upper Canada Distric School Board (UCDSB) trustee John McAllister to pause the Accommodation Review Committee (ARC) process, which proposes to close 12 schools by July 2017, failed to pass at the Board’s meeting on Wednesday, Oct, 12.
At the opening of the meeting, School Board Chair Jeff McMillian reminded everyone around the table to keep it civil and their emotions in check as well as what he felt was their responsibility as trustees.
“A motion that is passed must be supported by all after it is passed. Any criticism of that motion is now a violation of the Code of Conduct,” he said. “It is our collective responsibility as trustees to manage the facilities, resources and finances of our Board. The act of doing nothing is unimaginable and unjustifiable. The PAR Guidelines clearly defined our role as trustees in the ARC process and it defined us as judge only. It is our job to decide on what happens in June. Whether we disagree with the role, the guidelines or timelines, it is immaterial at this point. This is the role that’s been given to us.”
He added that “this has the potential to have a lot of things happen at this Board table, it has the potential to be divisive, emotional, I hope that doesn’t happen.”
There was however some who took offence that the motion to rescind a previous decision of the Board.
One such trustee was David MacDonald, trustee for the Cornwall area.
“I can’t support the motion and am a little insulted,” he said. “By putting this forward you are questioning my capacity to act as a trustee 2 weeks ago. What you are suggesting is that we don’t follow our guidelines and to me this is very disingenuous for the role of a trustee.”
Trustee William MacPherson raised the possibility that the passage of this vote would undermine the confidence of the Board, its ability to function and the confidence of senior staff.
“I’m offended that the Board is mentioned in the paper,” he said. “Its a vote of non-confidence in us and our senior staff. We think we can do better than them.”
McAllister defended his reasoning for bringing forth the motion at the close of the discussion.
“I had every right as an elected trustee to make the motion I did and I did so making the parliamentary rules we guide ourselves by,” he said.
Before the debate got heated, at the opening of discussion John McAllister, the mover of the motion gave his 10 reasons why the decision to accept the ARC report should be rescinded.
1. He said that the scope is far too wide and attempts to address too much such as Boundary issues, school closures, etc.
2. He said that there are some very strong cultural and historical traditions at the schools that might be closed under this report.
3. He said that the report was overly optimistic in getting Ministry approval for capital projects.
4. He said the report ignored demographic reasons to settle in rural communities such as wanting not to have your children go to a city school.
5. He noted that closing schools in smaller rural communities would have a larger negative impact on their economies.
6. He felt the report had not emphasized working with municipal councils in the process.
7. He did not feel school councils were informed in timely manner and felt that volunteers deserve better.
8. Given the tight timeframe he questioned if there will be enough time for consultations.
9. Report does not address the Board’s Feb. 2014 decision to permit realignment of French Immersion, which may have had affect on numbers.
10. A concerned parent told him: I just strongly feel that this is the time to start looking at education differently and if any Board can do it its UCDSB.
Board Director of Education Stephen Sliwa gave staff’s advice concerning the motion.
“We recognize the writing on the wall in terms of what the Ministry of Education is giving school boards,” Sliwa said. “We have 3 years to be in the best possible position in terms of infrastructure and surplus spaces in order to receive funding. Regardless of what the Board decides, we will still have this conversation through the budget. Our focus was to create a situation that this would not become an annual process. That was our reasoning for having such a wide scope and including this many schools. The aim of these decisions is so the Board can avoid having these tough decisions annually.”
Sliwa also reminded the Board that if this decision was put on pause tonight, there would not be enough time to restart the process in this school year.
One supporter of the motion, Lisa Swan felt that the process had cut municipalities and communities out of the conversation and worried that with the tight timeline their voices might not be heard at all.
Ultimately, McAllister, Swan and Wendy MacPherson voted in favour of the motion to pause the ARC process, the other eight trustees voted against.