Come stand up for your school – a little later than expected

Accommodation review photos from Quinte News

The process by which the school board decides to close schools has the education-jargony name “accommodation review.” In searching for stories on that subject on the website of Belleville’s Quinte News (which has done a good job of covering the process), I was struck by the images and headlines that came up. They don’t paint a particularly happy picture, do they? There is so much worry about our local schools.

Regular readers will probably remember my post two weeks ago in which I issued an appeal to all of you who care about the future of Madoc Township Public School to show up for two critical meetings of the local public school board.

That appeal to come in person to support our wonderful rural school remains as urgent as ever. But: the date of the first of those two meetings has been changed. So please don’t show up at board headquarters in Belleville this Tuesday, May 23 – unless, that is, you’re eager to sit through a regular meeting of the Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board just for the heck of it.

May 23 was the long-scheduled date for a meeting at which the trustees who sit on the board’s student enrolment/school capacity committee were to formulate their recommendation on the fate of the three schools in the Madoc/Queensborough area: rural Madoc Township Public School plus two schools within the village of Madoc, Centre Hastings Secondary School and Madoc Public School. That recommendation was to go to a meeting of the full board on Monday, June 19, for a final and deciding vote.

For reasons that remain unclear to all the local residents/taxpayers whom I have spoken to about it, the board’s administration unexpectedly sent out word late last week that this very important meeting would be moved to Monday, June 12. The word came last Thursday, the day before a long weekend. (Friday, May 19, was a professional-development day, so students were not in school on that last day before the Victoria Day holiday.) This sudden and last-minute change of plans seems odd.

The board administration’s official word on the matter, in the press release posted on its website Thursday, said this:

May 18, 2017—A new date has been scheduled for the Student Enrolment/School Capacity Committee to meet to prepare the final recommendation for the Centre Hastings accommodation review.

The new date is Monday, June 12, rescheduled from Tuesday, May 23.

June 12 was already scheduled for final recommendations for the Belleville and Prince Edward County accommodation reviews. This change is being made to allow recommendations for all three areas to be prepared on the same day. It should be noted that the required accommodation review timeline allows for the May 23rd meeting date to be later than May 23rd although not before.

All other timelines remain the same (see below). The final decision by the Board of Trustees will be made on Monday, June 19.

Interestingly, queries about this sudden change that one local MTPS supporter sent to the elected trustees resulted in an emailed response that started thus:

I understand that you have emailed Trustees about the change of date for the Student Enrolment/School Capacity Committee meeting to prepare the final recommendation  for Centre Hastings. I am responding on behalf of the Trustees.

The message, which went on to echo the wording in the above-cited press release, closed with:

I hope this helps.
Thank you
Mandy
Mandy Savery-Whiteway
Director of Education
Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board
613-966-1170 ext 2257

As director of education, Ms. Savery-Whiteway is the board’s top administrator. I don’t know about you, but I find myself wondering why the trustees, the people whom we have elected to make decisions on local education matters, did not respond themselves to such a straightforward question. I would not like to think they were told not to by board staff, and I hope that’s not the case.

Perhaps you are thinking, “What’s the big deal? It’s only a date change.” Let me explain why I’m bothered by it. (And I know I am not alone.)

First: People had already made plans and changed their schedules – work, babysitting and otherwise – to be able to attend the long-scheduled May 23 meeting. A bit more notice of the change would have been both professional and polite.

Sign in front of the board office

An “Our Local Schools Matter” sign pitched outside school-board headquarters the last time the trustees were discussing the future of much-loved Madoc Township Public School.

Second: The originally scheduled meeting was to have been exclusively for the committee to consider the future of the three schools in the Madoc area – and there is a lot to consider. As you’ll know if you’ve been following this story (and if you’d like to catch up, just click on the category “Madoc Township Public School” on this blog’s home page), over the past few months there have been many meetings, many concerns, many discoveries of flawed information and problematic conclusions in materials prepared by and for the board’s administrators. The committee set up by the board to look into the initial proposal – to close Madoc Township Public School, send its kids to Madoc Public, and move students in Grades 7 and 8 into the high school – rejected it, and came up with two alternate plans, both of which would be better for local students and for the community as a whole. (Details on those alternate plans here.) So far those alternative proposals have gone nowhere with the board’s administrators. But that could easily change in a forum for the trustees to openly discuss the process and the conclusions – which is what the May 23 meeting was to have been.

Full house at CHSS

The gym at the high school in Madoc has been packed by people worried about our local schools at both public meetings to discuss the school board’s closure/consolidation plan.

Now, that full open discussion can still take place at the meeting on Monday, June 12. But here’s the rub: as the board’s press release and Ms. Savery-Whiteway’s letter note, the June 12 meeting will also see the committee consider two other highly contentious school-closure/consolidation proposals, one for the Belleville area and one for Prince Edward County. That is a lot of important decision-making to cram into one meeting, and I have concerns (and did I mention that I know I’m not alone?) that the hard facts of time limits plus the limits of human attention spans and energy levels will come into play – curbing trustees’ leanings toward challenging board administrators’ proposals and then going through the time-consuming process of discussing and agreeing on wording for motions that differ from those proposals.

I hope I’m wrong about this. I also hope there’s a good supply of strong coffee for the trustees at the June 12 meeting.

My third (I hesitate to say final) concern: There is only one week between the June 12 meeting at which the final recommendation is formulated and the June 19 meeting of the full board at which the recommendation is voted on. Less time between meetings means less time for community members concerned about the final recommendation to hold discussions, contact trustees, lobby and so on. May I be allowed to be suspicious about this newly reduced time frame?

And by the way: you may be as unimpressed as I was to learn that the June 12 meeting is scheduled for 2 to 5 p.m. Which means it will be extremely difficult for anyone to attend if they work during the day and/or have small kids coming home from school mid-afternoon. That’s a large portion of the community ruled out. Now, members of the public are not allowed to speak at or participate in the committee meeting; but it’s still important for them to be able to see their elected trustees in action when those trustees make community-changing decisions on school closures. Does it seem right to you that this session should be scheduled for a time when the majority of the public can’t attend? Me neither.

At any rate, if you were one of the community members who had planned to attend the May 23 meeting to show support for our school, I hope that you can and will revise your schedule to be at school-board headquarters (156 Ann St., Belleville) at 2 p.m. on Monday, June 12.

And between now and then, please don’t hesitate to call, write and/or email your local trustees and all the rest of the trustees (full list with contact information here) to tell them how important Madoc Township Public School is to our children and our community. This process has been long and hard, and I think we’re all feeling a little worn down. Sudden curve balls from the people holding most of the cards don’t help at all. But a united stand and a strong show of support can make all the difference.

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