Special Report: Education

School Board Betrays Urban Neighbourhoods

It's hard to avoid the conclusion that the fix was in from the beginning, that this whole process was mere ceremony to present the illusion of inclusion.

By Ryan McGreal
Published May 30, 2012

The Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board trustees have confirmed their decision to close seven high schools in older neighbourhoods, especially across the lower city.

The statue of a teacher protecting her students in front of the Board of Education building is a grim irony (RTH file photo)
The statue of a teacher protecting her students in front of the Board of Education building is a grim irony (RTH file photo)

What a betrayal to those families whose children will now be commuting to a single central school whose catchment spans approximately 1,200 square blocks between Queen Street and Kenilworth Avenue. So much for walkability.

What a crushing blow to those neighbourhoods that can no longer offer the promise of a community school to would-be residents. This self-fulfilling decision will actually provoke the flight of families with school-age children from urban neighbourhoods that the Board has projected.

What a tragic missed opportunity to find solutions to the Board's funding problems that aren't community-destroying, like adjusting catchment boundaries, moving special programs from over-capacity schools to under-capacity schools, and renting out spare school space to third parties - as the Board did a decade ago to keep Central School open.

As if that was not damning enough, the Trustees also voted to shut down prematurely the process of searching for a downtown location for the HWDSB education centre, instead of waiting three weeks to hear the committee's recommendation.

It's hard to avoid the conclusion that the fix was in from the beginning, and the process was tailor-made to produce the desired outcome. The decision to move to Crestwood - like the decision to close seven high schools, like the decision to close Prince Philip School - appears to have been predetermined, the public process a mere ceremony of tokenism to present the illusion of inclusion.

The HWDSB's closed, secretive and contemptuous decision-making process has reached a nadir with these blinkered, far-reaching decisions, which were hatched behind closed doors and will now be foisted on outraged and marginalized communities.

While other cities are taking active, meaningful steps to reinvest in inner city neighbourhoods and accommodate the growing numbers of people who want to live in them, the HWDSB has chosen instead to reinforce Hamilton's retrograde practice of investing in endless sprawl while starving older neighbourhoods of the resources that would otherwise allow them to flourish.

We will pay the cost of their folly for decades to come.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

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By Sigma Cub (anonymous) | Posted May 30, 2012 at 13:49:21

It's known as "decide and defend" and it's the cold reality of most government consultation at every level.

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By John Neary (registered) | Posted May 30, 2012 at 14:00:52

It's time to take school board elections seriously and replace the trustees who are doing such harm to our children and our city.

119 people have already joined the facebook group "Ward 1&2 Residents for Firing Judith Bishop" (which was created not two hours ago), and concerned citizens are talking about holding community meetings (or even a primary of sorts) to unite behind a challenger in 2014.

We need similar initiatives across the city. If the current trustees don't care about the best interests (or the opinions) of citizens, then we need to elect new trustees who do.

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By mrgrande (registered) | Posted May 30, 2012 at 14:11:46 in reply to Comment 77598

I don't suppose you have a link to that Facebook group?

What's sad is she ran unopposed in 2010...

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By highwater (registered) | Posted May 30, 2012 at 18:24:15 in reply to Comment 77600

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By bonnietheb (anonymous) | Posted May 30, 2012 at 14:20:24

I have said it before and I will continue to say it until someone does something..having 2 publicly funded systems is the root of all school accomodation problems. When you have 2 high schools for every neighbourhood in an aging population you will not have enough students for both. Simple as that. You may want to point the finger at our local school board (easy enough to do, it is just awful in every way)but the problem is bigger than just that. Look at the bigger picture. We need ONE publicly funded school board, if you want specialty education do it on your own time. By its exclusionary nature a Catholic school is as community destroying as closing a school. It divides a community into those welcome and those not, how is this fair? Since moving to Hamilton our local school has been nothing but a huge disappointment in every way. Maybe it's time to bulldoze them all and move forward fresh and clean. As for where the actual school board offices are located I am not sure why the Mountain is a problem for you, it is after all part of Hamilton, isn't it?

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By brendansimons (registered) | Posted May 30, 2012 at 14:32:16 in reply to Comment 77604

The mountain is absolutely part of Hamilton, and that's not the root of my objection. The problem is that the HWDSB is choosing to pave over a greenfield in a thriving residential neighbourhood, rather than leveraging the province's considerable funding to renew a shuttered building in the core where the investment would make the most difference.

Unfortunately investing in the city does not seem to be one of the Board's decision criteria.

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By Csteinberg (anonymous) | Posted May 30, 2012 at 15:03:53

I live in ward 2 and have every intention of running in the next election cycle.

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By Tony (anonymous) | Posted May 30, 2012 at 16:09:04

Latest Hamilton Magazine Poll is about the Board of Ed fleeing to the Mountain - so far, the majority don't support the decision (no surprise there, then!)

Vote here: www.hamiltonmagazine.com

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By RyanB (anonymous) | Posted May 30, 2012 at 18:20:29

I'll consider a run. Ward 2 resident here.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted May 31, 2012 at 07:00:48

I live in Ward 2 as well. If you're planning on running, what platform will you run on? Saying "I am everything Judith Miller is not" is not sufficient.

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By mrgrande (registered) | Posted May 31, 2012 at 10:14:04 in reply to Comment 77638

Especially since her name is Judith Bishop :P

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted May 31, 2012 at 09:24:30

It looks to me like these schools are being closed so that the board can build their new office.

The ministry told them they were "on their own" to solve their office "problem".

So the HWDSB plan is to ask for some new schools (which the ministry WILL fund), and close down a bunch of older schools and sell them off in order to be able to afford their office building and parking behind the Mark's Work Wearhouse.

Just pathetic. It's people like this who are killing this city. I can't imagine a more cowardly, selfish, Hamilton-hating decision.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted June 01, 2012 at 10:52:31 in reply to Comment 77643

Far be it from me to defend the board, but they are not allowed to put the proceeds from selling schools toward administrative buildings. They are also not allowed Ministry funding and must fund it themselves. The Ministry does have to approve their business case however, and the Crestwood plan is already Ministry-approved. The board says the Crestwood plan will be funded from the sale of 100 Main St. and their other non-instructional facilities.

However most people are not aware of this, so the optics of building themselves a new head office in the midst of such a massive wave of school closures are terrible, and it behooved them to give back to the city by engaging with the city in good faith to ensure their project was a net positive. This decision will have a lasting negative impact on the board's relationship with the city. We must never forget the names of the people responsible: Bishop (wards 1 & 2), Barlow (wards 9 & 10), Hicks (ward 8), Mulholland (ward 4), Brennan (Dundas), and Johnstone (wards 11 & 12).

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted June 01, 2012 at 10:57:33 in reply to Comment 77752

Based on their behaviour so far, I would not rule out some "creative accounting" if it is necessary for them to get their dream of a shiny new office with parking, only a two minute drive from the Limeridge food court.

New York Fries all around!

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By Totes (anonymous) | Posted June 01, 2012 at 06:26:03

You Can Get Away With Anything In Hamilton

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