Arrogance, Contempt and Dirty Tricks
by Barry Mortin
Few of us will forget the night the KPR board voted to close PCVS. As PCVS supporters reacted to the decision, KPR Director of Education Rusty Hick folded his arms and smirked. This was not just the perception of a few offended PCVS people; I saw it and it was reported in our local newspaper. Inappropriate? You bet it was — but it is precisely this kind of contempt for the public our board has shown us and continues to demonstrate that should be setting off alarm bells across the KPR region.
We have witnessed dishonesty and manipulation, misleading terminology and the suppression of information from KPR management. Management transgressions were often designed to deceive both the public and trustees.Trustees have picked up on the spirit of disdain and have shown us indifference, ignorance, impatience and animosity.
My personal experience with the KPR begins with our Accommodation Review Committee (ARC) so that is where I will begin today. I am not going to go into all of the technical policy violations our board had within its ARC but the fact that there are so many suggests that the Board can afford its arrogance because ultimately it is not accountable to anyone.
1. The Chair of the ARC was a hired gun for the KPR
Contrary to the Education Ministry guidelines, the KPR hired a chair for the ARC. As chair, Don Blair certainly had a lot of sway and he was very clearly biased and even coached by Director Hick from the sidelines. Under these circumstances the ARC chair could not be objective or fair. He and his boss had a single minded purpose — for the ARC to deliver a “consensus” to close a school.
2. The KPR was just “going through the motions” with its ARC
We witnessed the trivializing of the ARC process as a mere checklist for the Board to rush through in order to fulfill the Ministry’s procedure required for school closures. Their decision to make the Ministry’s four meeting minimum their maximum number of ARC meetings captures the spirit of the board’s intentions, making a mockery of the process. Requests for additional working meetings were refused and a request to recess to another day was ruled “out of order” by Rusty Hick. The time restriction made it impossible for the ARC to complete the School Information Profiles (or SIPs) in any meaningful way, thereby invalidating the entire process. No time was allotted to evaluate findings or to incorporate public input into the findings. So essentially there was no completed evaluation for making an informed decision.
3. Pitting Schools Against Each Other
Our board launched the Peterborough ARC with an utter disregard for decency or the well-being of our community. It is actually a divide and conquer strategy that has proven to be all too effective. While each school struggled for its own survival some ARC members aggressively attacked other schools. These attacks have in effect poisoned our community. We mostly see evidence of this in social media like Facebook and Twitter. Malicious and homophobic posts were removed from the “Peterborough Needs PCVS” Facebook page regularly and we’ve had similar comments posted on the Save Local Schools site. The hatred directed at PCVS supporters has been appalling and it is not only coming from students but from adults and even from at least one KPR trustee. One of the people on the transition committee even tweeted that “PCVS supporters should go fuck themselves”. I invite you to a look at articles about PCVS on our online newspapers to read the comments posted below the articles. For the most part these disgraceful comments are coming from adults and I fear that their ongoing hostility has created an environment where some students will feel that bullying is acceptable after they have witnessed their parents behavior.
4. Staff and Teachers were Silenced
The staff and teachers of PCVS and other KPR employees were warned by the board they were not to talk about the ARC or closure of PCVS. There could be no comments that could be construed as “negative” towards the board or ARC process. This certainly restricted staff that were ARC committee members (10 of the 34 ARC members were employees of KPR). Worse still, teachers were not able to help their students deal with the emotional upset once it was announced PCVS was slated to close. Requests made in December for impartial, non-board counsellors to assist the students were dismissed.
5. Failure to Provide the ARC with Adequate or Accurate Information
Despite the ARC’s repeated requests for updated Facility Condition information, board staff provided only the information from the Facility Survey in 2003. Other Boards provide current numbers for their ARCs. The 2003 survey found one of the schools, (Adam Scott) was rated Prohibitive to Repair. Another school TASSS, was not far behind. The total cost to repair Adam Scott and TASSS was $33.8M in 2003. What happened to these schools in the 8 years since the last survey? They have certainly aged and inflation has driven up the cost-to-repair.
Requests for current market values of each of the schools remained unanswered.
Both the Trustees and the ARC were given inaccurate and biased enrolment data. The enrolment decline was exaggerated, being skewed by Ontario’s double cohort in 2003 and the failure to include another Peterborough area school, Crestwood in its calculations. Crestwood has been fairly well enrolled so its exclusion made the projections look more dire than they actually were. Furthermore, they provided inaccurate figures about PCVS enrolment suggesting its current and projected enrolment was much lower than it actually was. PCVS has been almost fully enrolled for years and is the only school in the ARC that could make such a claim.
6. Missing Minutes from the May ARC Meeting
The minutes of the last ARC meeting have been doctored with a whole hour of Don Blair’s aggressive antics missing and parts of the minutes even being out of sequence compared to the actual events. We have transcripts/recordings that show these discrepancies. Missing are complaints from the committee about unanswered questions and the board’s failure to provide various reports, Blair’s ongoing insistence on obtaining consensus for closing a school despite Committee members repeatedly asking for additional meetings, others saying they have not had time to digest the information, requests to recess, Rusty Hick intervening to direct Blair to say a recess contravened board policy (a lie). Also missing is the recommendation to close a school “as a last resort” and some discussion about exploring other options which is quashed by Blair who then forces a vote after much confusion.
7. More Missing Minutes
The May ARC meeting was not the first time we know of that Board Minutes had been tampered with. The Minutes of a June 19, 2008 Board meeting were altered to eliminate Crestwood, Norwood and Lakefield from the planned ARC. There was no discussion or vote by Trustees concerning this major change even though both Norwood and Lakefield were officially “underutilized”.
8. Three Days Notice of Closure
Hick told the community he was changing the school closure recommendation from TASSS to PCVS 3 days before the September 29th vote by trustees to close a school. The board requires 10 days notice to arrange a delegation so not only was there little time to prepare to fight the recommendation but PCVS supporters were denied the appropriate forum to do so. Hick’s timing was a deliberate and dishonest strategy to assure the vote went his way.
9. The TASSS Closure Lie
With the release of the KPR factum for the Judicial Review it has come to light that Rusty Hick never intended to close TASSS. He most certainly misled the public about this as a ruse to avoid PCVS supporters from defending their position.
10. KPR Board’s Refusal to Listen to or Respond to PCVS Supporters
PCVS delegations at monthly trustee meetings were met with trustees staring at the boardroom table. They were unresponsive, rarely asking questions, apparently feeling inconvenienced at having the public consume so much of their time. After their vote to close PCVS, trustees were instructed not to respond to PCVS supporters calls, letters or emails. Delegations were denied simply on the basis of being recognized as PCVS supporters.
Despite the boards claim to the contrary, PCVS supporters were NEVER disruptive during board meetings but would participate in non-disruptive protests such as students symbolically wearing tape over their mouths. Board Chair Diane Lloyd stopped one meeting until students agreed to remove blindfolds citing a non-existent rule about props not being allowed in the boardroom. She could have acknowledged or ignored protesters but chose to be confrontational. She adjourned a meeting because a student presenter would not shut up when Lloyd refused to listen to a presentation about threats to student safety. So it was Lloyd herself that was disruptive. She made a conscious and perhaps calculated decision to interrupt board business then attempted to vilify PCVS supporters in the media. This week she called us “vindictive”.
Trustee Gordon Gilchrist, who sets a sterling example with a tax evasion conviction and bigoted anti-immigration comments, referred to PCVS as “The Titanic” and asked PCVS students if he was “supposed to be impressed”. Mr Gilchrist stated he did not want to listen to the public so they get get on with “legitimate” board business.
Trustee Cyndi Dickson told students to “talk to the hand” then needed to be restrained by a security guard from attacking a student. These are examples of their hostility. Their silence and indifference is actually the norm.
11. The Question of Board Chair, Diane Lloyd’s Pecuniary Conflict of interest
The Chair of KPR is a real estate agent representing properties for sale in the immediate area around TASSS. There were no signs posted on the properties but they were listed with Lloyd. The value of the property could have been affected by the closure of the school in turn effecting Lloyd’s commission. When a PCVS supporter questioned Lloyd if this should be considered a pecuniary conflict of interest she immediately threatened them with legal action.
12. Joan Green Conflict of Interest
The KPR had hired Joan Green in 2006 to consult on school closures. She has been a consultant to the Ministry of Education on EQAO and other programs. She could most certainly not be considered “independent”. The conflict of interest is obvious and the board, the Ministry and Ms. Green herself should never have agreed to have her as a facilitator to review the KPR ARC process. We had been warned by other communities to expect a cookie-cutter response and that is exactly what we got.
It needs to be noted that there has always been much talk in our community of “the PCVS way”. The PCVS way is to be respectful and to use reason and facts rather than emotion and aggression to make an argument. PCVS went into this fight for its survival with great resolve to maintain this dignity and reasonableness. With 148 doctors and 59 mental health professionals, the Downtown Business Association, City council and urban planners all citing the importance of PCVS, not to mention the sustained passion and commitment of a community, I would have thought it would be reasonable to expect thinking people to re-examine a hasty decision. Instead, the KPR continued to ramp up its hostility as a reaction to dissent.
So who do these people have to answer to? Apparently no one. Laurel Broten will not take responsibility, nor will the courts and the breadth of the amalgamated board leaves us without democratic control. Change is critical especially in the face of the number of schools the Liberal government is planning to close. We need to extend the mandate of the Ontario Ombudsman. The Education Act needs to be amended to establish an oversight commission and Directors of Education should be made employees of the Ministry – not of School Boards.
The system has been designed to eliminate resistance over time. It is a possibility that our playing by the rules and requesting a biased and useless facilitator report that the government sat on for five weeks may have cost us our court case. But we have persevered and will continue to do so. When elections come around trustees, we are coming for you and you will be surprised by the reach of our community.
And that smirk on Mr. Hick’s face – he will always wear it as his legacy.