Monday, April 5, 2010

A couple tips of the hat and one big wag of the finger

(Written for Root Issues in the Barrie Examiner)

One of my favourite TV shows is the Colbert Report. A recurring feature is the “Tip of the Hat / Wag of the Finger” where the host describes people deserving praise or criticism. I adopt his terminology today to discuss the future of Barrie Central Collegiate Institute, Barrie’s only downtown high school, and how local politicians have approached the issue.

First, a tip of my hat to MP Patrick Brown, who has taken a strong interest in this issue, and set two positive examples. First, he looked carefully at the planning laws and guidelines set out by the government of Ontario. As I had written earlier, the provincial goals for Barrie include downtown growth in a complete urban community. As Brown notes, there are numerous references in Places to Grow and Simcoe Area: a Strategic Vision for Growth to schools and education as a key factor. It should be clear to any reader that the province urges Barrie to maintain or improve downtown education facilities, not see them disappear.

Furthermore, Brown has indicated his willingness to see how the federal government can partner up to help save Central. Although education is not a federal portfolio, federal grants are always welcome. Local watersheds are neither a federal responsibility, but we accept $30 million in federal money to help Lake Simcoe; Barrie has been lucky to receive matching federal funding for a downtown theatre. So there is a possibility that some kind of federal partnership could also be found for our downtown schools.

The key word here is partnership. At a special meeting earlier this month, the Simcoe County District School Board passed a motion seeking partnerships for Barrie Central. Throughout this process, Barrie city councillor (now mayoral candidate) Jeff Lehman has also indicated the City’s willingness to explore partnerships to save this critical school. So I tip my hat to Councillor Lehman, too.

But now I must wag my finger. Our MPP Aileen Carroll has been the missing partner at the table. To date she has proffered only excuses as to why her government cannot help. She states that it is entirely up to the trustees to decide where to build or re-build schools without provincial interference, meanwhile taking credit for meeting the Board’s 2008 request to fund a new school southwest of Barrie and expand Bear Creek. New schools don’t get built unless the Ministry of Education provides its share of the funding, so the province has a major influence on these matters. In 2008, the Board’s needs were met but in 2009, when the top priority capital request to rebuild Central was denied, where was Carroll?

What’s more, in Carroll’s article earlier this week, there was a breathtaking oversight. The Board, and Central’s supporters, have spoken at length about the need for partnerships. On February 11th, the Ministry of Education released a new set of guidelines for school boards “to assist boards in establishing more facility partnerships with community partners”. Why did Carroll not draw our attention to this? Is it possible that MP Brown is actually more familiar with the goings-on at the provincial ministries than our MPP?

Patrick and Jeff, I tip my hat to you both. Aileen, I wag my finger.

Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a teacher, father, volunteer, and politician.

Post-script: After this was published, I received a call from Aileen Carroll's assistant challenging the statements made in this article. However, I stand by them, and statements echoing what I expressed in this colum have since been made by letter writers, the Barrie Examiner's editorial board, and Barrie City Council.

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