What’s the Hold-up With Lorne Ave Public School?

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.


October 25 Was a Long Time Ago. It’s Time to Move On!

Much ado has been made recently about the level of political discourse in this city, and there is some justification for this.  In our wired world where everyone has a platform and the opportunity to speak at will and anonymously, we shouldn’t be surprised that public discourse is often banal, sometimes just plain stupid and occasionally malicious.  Talk of adopting a Code of Conduct for citizen members of advisory boards, agencies and commissions to limit freedom of expression is a self-serving diversion, unlikely to have any real impact, and bad policy in any event.

For my part, I would like to speak frankly and clear the air on the great yawning chasm that is assumed to exist between Clr. Orser and myself.  It’s a fiction, and I’m not even sure who I can blame for it.  Characterizations in the local paper that we are “political rivals”, for example, don’t help.  We haven’t been political rivals since election day, and that was a long time ago.  The good people of Ward 4 made their choice on October 25, Clr. Orser won the contest quite handily.  It was over in the early hours of October 26th.  It’s time for everyone to move on.

The plain truth of the matter is that we need him in our corner as we work to improve our neighbourhood.  We need to open the lines of communication.  While he and I are not ever likely to be friends, I would suggest it might be useful if we were able to talk to one another. I’m more than willing.

Now the naysayers will no doubt point to some blog postings of mine where I took the good councillor to task for the single appointment he received to agencies, boards, and commissions.  To those folks I would say that it’s a factual observation that was made on the basis of his commitment to represent the people of Ward 4 “full time”.  It’s not malice or slander, people!  In the same way, I think he ought to have applied to sit on the board of the local B.I.A., that he ought to be much more supportive of their work, and that he ought to attend neighbourhood meetings as our elected representative.  You may disagree with me on any of this, but let’s not try to create trouble where none need exist.  Let’s at least try to separate the fact from the fury!

Walk to Shop in Old East Village

As part of the Strengthening Neighbourhoods Strategy underway in the city, neighbourhoods were invited to apply for funding from the City of London to assist in developing local Walk to Shop initiatives.  The Old East Village Community Association, in partnership with the Old East Village Business Improvement Area, is one of three successful applicants.  Our grant from the city has been supplemented by two generous cash donations from merchants on the corridor and significant donations-in-kind from the Association and the BIA.

The money is to be used to encourage residents to shop locally and to highlight the options available to us within walking distance.  While the focus is thus to help to deliver local folks to local merchants – not to promote local merchants to markets outside of the neighbourhood – it has always been clear to us that the prospects for both residents and merchants are improved when relationships are nurtured between them.

The commercial corridor that runs along Dundas Street has always been a strategic asset of the neighbourhood.  The Revitalization Plan currently underway along Dundas Street (currently in its second iteration) has been celebrated nationally for the progress it is making but bringing commercial corridors back to life, especially secondary corridors in the downtowns of larger Canadian and American cities, is complex work that takes years to accomplish.  Though Dundas Street East remains in transition, there are many good options available to us – especially in the arts and culture sector, with a number of top notch venues in the performance arts, and in the food sector, with the successful Western Fair Farmer’s Market going a long way towards addressing the status of Old East as a food desert, and a number of very good restaurants and cafes.

The Walk to Shop strategy we are working on has three inter-related parts to it.

First, we will be working with the local business community, including with those residents operating home-based businesses, to develop a local business directory, to be distributed through our community newsletter, the Old East Village News, hand-delivered five times per year to the nearly 2,000 residences in the neighbourhood.

Second, we are going to design a Scavenger Hunt that will take place over the next several months to bring as many local residents into as many local businesses as we can.  At the end of the day, the best we can do is to get as many residents as possible into the stores along Dundas Street.  After that, it’s up to the merchants themselves to give us a reason to come back.

The largest and most difficult portion of our strategy will involve a local wayfinding system along our neighbourhood streets and along the corridor.  Wayfinding, for our purposes, refers to artistic signage that will act as visual cues for residents to the proximity of local shopping options, as measured by walking time.  The mapping of neighbourhood walking times from a myriad of points to various categories of shopping options along the corridor will be translated into wayfinding symbols to act not only as markers but as visual cues reinforcing a local shopping ethic in Old East Village.  Old East walks, certainly more than most other neighbourhoods in the city.  We want to explore the use of symbols in influencing behaviour.

There are benefits to the wayfinding program over and above bringing residents into local businesses, though this is important.  The program will establish the neighbourhood as one engaged in reclaiming the corridor for its own use.  New businesses are obviously interested in the strength of the local consumer market available to them as they work their way through the business planning process, and a neighbourhood that votes with its feet will make attracting the kinds of new businesses we wish to see that much easier.

We intend to work our way through designing and implementing the strategy in the most collaborative way possible.  We hope that local residents and especially local merchants will get involved early.