Here we are, a few weeks away from a final decision on the future of Lorne Ave Public School by our elected Trustees and I’m perplexed by the apparent lack of progress on “solving the problem” at the school. The problem, you will remember, is several hundred empty seats in the school, at least by the method the Ministry of Education uses to calculate empty seats.
There are only four parties involved in identifying a solution: TVDSB Trustees, the local community, the City of London, and school board Senior Staff.
The Trustees were very clear with us when we appeared before them last: “Solve the problem with empty spaces”, they told us. “Find partnerships that will allow us to remove the excess capacity in the school”, they said. Not in private conversations, mind you, but in public session. These remarks are minuted.
This community did exactly what was asked of us. We didn’t complain that this was the job the board’s Senior Staff should have been doing, but had refused to do, or that the rules were changed capriciously by these same folks whenever it suited their particular agenda. No, we worked to bring the City of London on board with the announcement of a new Family Centre at the school and a significant cash contribution for renovations to get the Centre up and running. We found additional funded partners as well: Growing Chefs, the Aeolian Hall’s Il Sistema program, a Chinese school for international students, a wildly successful arts collective with roots in the local community. Each of these partners met the requirements put in place by the board’s Facility Partnership policies; each has the potential to significantly enhance the educational outcomes of students at the school; taken together, all of the “empty spaces” at the school are gone. Bam! The partnerships are a game-changer – re-imagining the ways that local schools can be, indeed ought to be be, stitched into the very fabric of the urban neighbourhoods in which they are located.
Problem solved, no?
The City of London, taking the lead on negotiations with Board staff (as the City will eventually hold the master lease on the non-school portion of the building on behalf of the other partners), has been sitting with these TVDSB senior staff for at least the past month. Bargaining in good faith, it should be said. The City understands the symbolic value of holding on to the last remaining non-specialized elementary school in the core, even if the school board’s Senior Staff don’t. Or won’t.
So, what’s the hold-up? Why haven’t we heard that some kind of agreement has been hammered out already? Or, at least, that progress is being made?
I don’t know the answer to that question. We know the negotiations between City staff and TVDSB staff are ongoing. We know that they are private discussions, as they should be. But an agreement, even if only in principle until endorsed by the Trustees at their meeting in May 2014, wouldn’t be private, would it? We would have heard something. But the silence is deafening.
So, where’s the logjam?
The excess capacity at the school identified by the Trustees is gone. Problem solved.
The local community did what we were asked to do by the Trustees, and more, delivering an innovative shared-use plan for the building that should act as a model for other large urban core schools with excess capacity across the province. A game-changer.
The City is at the table, funding committed, willing to do what it takes to make this work, and bargaining in good faith.
Clearly, the logjam (or whatever it is) doesn’t rest with the Trustees, the local community or the City of London.
It’s not rocket science, folks, Only the TVDSB Senior Staff are left as the possible culprit – the same staff who have systematically starved Lorne Ave Public School of resources over the years, shortchanging our students, in their single-minded pursuit of closing the school, putting roadblocks in our way at each step we’ve taken, changing the rules to sabotage our efforts every time we made progress, their utter disdain for this school, its students and this neighbourhood so very evident in their every interaction with us.
It couldn’t be that the TVDSB Senior Staff, and especially Mr. Kevin Bushell and Ms, assorted Karens, frustrated that a bunch of east London neighbours had solved the problem they apparently couldn’t, were digging in their heels in a fit of pique, could it? Sabotaging negotiations with the City? Wilfully ignoring the express instructions of their masters, our elected Trustees?
I’ve said all along that the dogged campaign to close this particular school in this particular neighbourhood is class warfare undertaken by certain TVDSB Senior Staff from what they feel is the security of their Sunshine List sinecures, their corner offices and their homes in tony London neighbourhoods.
It’s too early to say with absolute certainty that these folks are the roadblock here. But we will know soon, as early as the day after staff from the City and the school board come out of private session, with or without a deal, who the culprit is.
And, when that day comes, if it comes without a deal to keep the school open, it will become abundantly clear to the Trustees that their Senior Staff is in open rebellion. Heads will roll.