The School Board, “PARC” and KCVI.
In recent days I have received more e-mails about KCVI and the school board’s Program Accommodation Review Committee (“PARC”) than I have on virtually any other matter. It is one of two PARCs that have been started. I share your concerns about the threatened closing of KCVI. A review of my thoughts on the matter since first writing about it in October (and still on my web site “School closures possible”) may be of interest.
From my perspective, the “bottom line” for the PARC is, exactly that, the bottom line: money. While it is always attractive for politicians to keep tax rates the same, such an action ignores inflation. It may also overlook infrastructure renewal if an annual budget does not otherwise make allowances for it. Many of you regularly tell me your views about Council adding 1% each year for Kingston's roads and other infrastructure renewal, that was ignored in the 1990s, and the 2% we allow for inflation. Yet I do not recall in recent years any increases in the school assessments (including 2012). Perhaps we should not be surprised that the school board is facing a budget problem.
I understand that KCVI faces specific problems. First, as an older school, it is becoming more expensive to maintain - in other words, infrastructure renewal is needed. Second, the population base that has supported the school is shrinking.
There are two obvious reasons for this.
First, the demographics of our population are changing. Where once there were families with children who went to the nearby schools, now in many areas three are grandparents who have grandchildren come to visit, but not attend the local school. That is cyclical. A Queen’s contemporary of mine provides an object lesson. Perhaps fifteen years ago they moved to an older street in Burlington. A primary school was at the bottom of the street, and the school board wanted to close it. They were stopped, and now that same school has two portable classrooms on the grounds. The grandparents of the neighbourhood had downsized, and young families had bought their homes.
The second population challenge, which is specific to KCVI and Sydenham district is the flight of families because of student-related concerns. Reversing the flight of families (an issue of more than passing importance to me as Sydenham District councillor) will take time, but increasingly people are appreciating that this must take place. I am encouraged that two senior members of the Queen’s administration, (speaking as individuals and not on behalf of the institution,) have agreed that it is in the university’s best interests that KCVI remain a high school. Two contested infill projects that have been approved by council offer hope that the return of families may be starting.
I believe the closing of any school, not just KCVI, would be shortsighted in the extreme.
Premier McGuinty’s government, through its Provincial Policy Statement (PPS) of 2005, has required all municipalities to adopt an urban growth boundary in order to protect adjacent farmland and curb urban sprawl which is expensive and potentially has harmful environmental consequences. We did that here in Kingston through the Planning Committee of the last council, of which I was a member. That same policy statement also requires us to increase residential densities in the urban core through intensification and infill. Although there is an apparent reluctance of this council to adopt a policy by which we could achieve that objective in an orderly manner, infill projects are regularly being approved on an ad hoc basis.
The closure of KCVI would be a “green light” for a downtown urban blight.
Closing KCVI would be a move in direct opposition to the PPS that requires urban intensification and infill. Families will not live where there are not schools. The closure of KCVI would be a “green light” for a downtown urban blight that would make the current “student housing area” pale by comparison. And let's keep in mind that with it we would have to be prepared for the economic collapse of the downtown business area.
In this vein, an article by Doug Saunders in the focus section of the Globe and Mail of Saturday, December 17, that some of you may have read, is both of interest and germane. Saunders recently published Arrival City: The Final Migration and our Next World which won Saunders the $35,000 Donner Prize for best book by a Canadian on public policy. His recent Globe article was about an area of urban squalor in Antwerp, known by its postal code as 2060. The mayor of Antwerp had invited Saunders to visit and study the area, and then to offer suggestions on what the city night do to address the issues. Saunders' second of three “prescriptions for transformation” was to establish “a top quality secondary school.” In elaboration he wrote, “in other words, the 2060 needs a model institution that will not just bring children back, but make middle-class families from outside compete to get in.” That is not an option for a city council in Ontario. Schools are administered by school boards directly elected and funded by you.
The two PARCs that are currently in process have a rigorous meeting schedule and short time lines. I understand that recommendations are to be presented to the school board in six or eight months. To achieve that, they are meeting each week. While council has been invited to appoint a member of council to each PARC, it is of little real consequence. The school board meeting schedule dictates that the PARCs meet on Tuesday evenings. Council meets on the first and third Tuesday evening of each month. My colleagues who volunteered for the PARCs, Councillors Hutchison and Scott, are both members of the Environment Infrastructure and Transportation Committee that meets on the second Tuesday of each month.
The financial difficulties of the school board do need to be addressed. On the spending side, how much is being spent on busing for high school students? I am sure many of you, as I did, when at high school used public transit. Why can we not expect that teenaged high school students in an urban area will use the public bus rather than a costly school bus ?
On the revenue side, we should require that the school board provincial Ministry of Education look closely at funding. School rates that do not keep pace with inflation and allow for infrastructure are irresponsible. A provincial funding formula that adopts a “one size fits all” approach, rather than acknowledging that an older downtown city school requires more infrastructure funding that that needed by a newly-built suburban school is also short-sighted. The McGuinty government cannot achieve its objective of an urban growth boundary combined with downtown intensification if it also adopts policies that make it impossible for families to live in such areas.
I would strongly urge all residents who are concerned about a school closure to raise the matter directly with their school trustee, (in Sydenham District, Paula Murray) the school board chair, Helen Chadwick, and in support of provincial funding, our MPP, John Gerretsen. Those of you who have a Queen’s connection may also wish to use that channel to urge the university as an institution, to speak in support of KCVI.
I welcome your views and ideas on these matters.