BradfordToday welcomes letters to the editor. Today's letter is in response to a Sept. 21 letter from Orillia area trustee/chairperson of the public school board, Jodi Lloyd. Send your letters to [email protected]
We are writing in response to a letter from Jodi Lloyd (Chair of the SCDSB Trustees) to Ontario's Education Minister Stephen Lecce, published on Sept. 21.
Lloyd began by reiterating the board's plea for the next round of capital priority funding to arrive swiftly. That is surely a sentiment behind which we can all unite.
The same cannot be said for the remainder of Lloyd’s points, which were the latest in a series of public attacks on the decision to select Shanty Bay Public School for capital funding.
By detailing the accommodation pressures in other areas of the county, Lloyd not-so-subtly implied such pressures don't exist in the Township of Oro-Medonte.
However, per the board's own figures in the 2019 Capital Plan, Oro schools are a combined 495 students over capacity (135% utilized), with 22 portables in use. Additionally, a study commissioned by the board in 2018 indicated Oro can expect up to 1,100 net new students over the next 5-10 years, based on residential development expectations.
Shanty Bay was the only school in the SCDSB portfolio under threat of immediate closure. The board stood by for more than a decade as the 65-year-old building approached, and then reached, the designation of ‘Prohibitive to Repair’.
The only renewal expenditure in that time was a few hundred dollars on paint, making its closure an inevitability. Amidst all the talk of population pressures, the outcome of this neglect would have been to reduce the number of school spaces.
As Lloyd knows, the Ministry has its own set of criteria for selecting capital funding projects, which rarely aligns perfectly with each board's ranked list of requests. This was spelled out to Lloyd and her fellow tustees by board staff at a meeting in September 2019. In fact, we believe it was Lloyd herself who asked the Business and Facilities Superintendent to talk about that, for the benefit of less-experienced trustees.
The board focuses on minimizing operating costs, uses a limited-scope population growth model and does not make considerations based on community. The Ministry has access to all those details, but also takes a 'bigger picture' approach, including considering the devastating impact a school closure can have on a community and its residents.
Prior to the provincial elections of 2018, all the main political parties pledged to protect rural and community schooling. A moratorium on school closures was introduced by the previous Liberal government and then upheld by the PC party when it assumed power.
In her letter, Lloyd also explicitly questioned the transparency of the selection process, which we found laughable given our own experience.
When the community of Shanty Bay learned of the potentially imminent closure of its school, requests for meetings with trustees and staff at the board were repeatedly denied. A formal delegation was permitted at a bard meeting, but this process does not permit presenters to ask questions, nor engage in meaningful dialogue.
Unable to get any clarity from the Trustees, we felt compelled to engage with other elected officials at the municipal and provincial level.
We met with our local MPP Doug Downey, who listened to our fact-based concerns and supported our community advocacy. MPP Downey submitted his own request for a meeting with Board Director Steve Blake and was denied; subsequently MPP Downey arranged for us to meet with Minister Lecce, to whom we also outlined the merits of our case.
Within two weeks of the meeting with Minister Lecce, we requested a new delegation with the board, to present them with the same information we'd brought to the Minister's attention.
Having painstakingly built the merit-based case for a renewal project in Shanty Bay, we were disappointed by the trustees' response. The people who'd refused to meet with us, were now outraged at not having been invited to our meeting with the Minister.
Less than half the allotted time for trustees' questions and comments related to our presentation on student population pressure in Oro-Medonte; the rest comprised dramatic accusations of political favours and interference.
Lloyd spoke of her concerns, so we'll outline ours.
We're alarmed by Lloyd's apparent willingness to suppress constituents’ rights to engage with their elected officials and raise legitimate concerns. Such rights are fundamental in any democracy and should be encouraged, not dismissed as an inconvenience, or publicly disparaged. How else can we create lasting and meaningful change for our families and communities?
Alastair Connolly and Sue Harrison