It's My Life: Tina Comeau
It’s been a few weeks and I’m still trying to wrap my head around the point of a Dec. 12 special meeting of the Tri-County Regional School Board.
That meeting will be on my mind when school board members, at their regular monthly meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 7, are slated to make their decision on proposed school boundaries.
These proposed boundaries have not been well received by families. They propose to divide up the population of Arcadia Consolidated School amongst several elementary schools starting this fall. And they propose to take students out of what have, for decades, been the traditional junior and senior high schools that students have always attended based on where they live.
Board member Ron Hines has given notice that at the Jan. 7 meeting he will bring forward a motion asking board members to delay the closure of Arcadia Consolidated School – particularly since the boundaries are linked to that decision.
Now that a new elementary school has been approved for Yarmouth, I can’t help but wonder if the board will indeed delay the closure of Arcadia School, or at least hold off on changing boundaries until it is decided what students – in addition to those from Central and South Centennial – will attend the new school.
Still, like a nagging cold you can’t shake, I can’t shake that Dec. 12 special meeting.
Aside from the fact the school board circulated written submissions at that meeting that had people’s addresses and email addresses on them, along with personal family circumstances that submitters didn’t know would be made public – this hasn’t gone over well with everyone who sent in written submissions – it also feels like the entire point of the meeting never occurred.
When the boundary review process was announced in October, it was stated that at the Dec. 12 meeting staff would present findings and recommendations. This would follow the public consultation.
I was at the public consultation session and people were not in favour of the proposed boundaries. They raised several points and were often told during the meeting these things would be considered. After all, these were just proposed boundaries and not set in stone. People could also submit written input.
Here’s what I expected at that special board meeting. I expected staff, which drew up the proposed boundaries, to come back with adjustments based on the public feedback.
I mean, isn’t that the point of consultation?
When the provincial government sends out drafts of reports or discussion papers for consultation, recommendations that go to the minister are usually based on adjustments that have been made along the way to reflect what the public had to say, if it was felt their points were worthy of consideration.
But in this case, what staff proposed before hearing from the public is still what board members are being presented with to vote on. There were no changes presented at the Dec. 12 special board meeting.
That’s not the impression I – or others I have spoken with – had about the process. I assumed that if there was fault or shortcomings to be found with the boundaries – for instance some students having to spend three to four times longer on school buses – that those parts of the proposed boundaries would be adjusted, not that the boundaries in their entire original “proposed” form would still be forwarded to board members to vote on.
Again, what’s the purpose of consultation?
I asked the superintendent about what had happened to the recommendations that had been talked about. I was told that board staff should have clarified earlier in the process that any recommendations that would come to the Dec. 12 special board meeting would be those that were raised by the public during the consultation phase, not staff recommendations based on what the public had to say.
I then asked if since board staff hadn’t made any changes to the proposed boundaries whether the public was to presume this meant that staff is okay with everything that was being proposed. I was told the intent of the feedback was to provide board members with as much information as possible regarding the proposed boundaries. Board members will then make decisions regarding any possible changes to the proposed catchment areas and direct staff as necessary.
But as many people know from experience, this board often makes decisions that are contrary to what public input has been.
Personally, I still think a step was left out of this process. When you ask for public consultation on something that is proposed, shouldn’t that input count for something along the way while the process unfolds, as opposed to just when it reaches the very last stage for decision?
But that’s only my recommendation.
(The Jan. 7 board meeting is at 6 p.m. at the board offices on Water Street.)