Why I’m running for Public School Board Trustee in 2014

Election 2014

Public school electors of Hamilton: It’s time to have a conversation.

A great many citizens have watched the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board for the past three years and questioned some of the decisions made by trustees.

The demolition of the historic downtown Education Centre and the decision to relocate to a site near Limeridge Mall.

The code of ethics violation in 2011.

The conflict of interest case in early 2013.

The destructive nature of the ARC process and the move from neighbourhood schools to big-box ‘education factories’.

The Scott Park decision.

Public school board supporters across Hamilton have been left shaking their heads in bewilderment. How can it be that the elected representatives we put our faith in have so callously abused that faith against the wishes of their community?

After Trustee Bob Barlow passed away in May, I sought the open trustee’s seat on the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board in the hopes that I could help guide the conversation in a more positive way. I’m an urban planning student, so it’s my responsibility to know how to build strong, healthy communities and how those communities change over time.

I wanted to be a part of the conversation because, to me, it seemed like the HWDSB was looking at only half of the picture when it came to Hamilton. Closing schools in older parts of the city while pursuing a new school in the sprawl of the south mountain doesn’t take into account the natural life-cycle of neighbourhoods.

Established neighbourhoods go through cycles, with families maturing, children moving away, parents remaining in their homes for as long as possible, moving or passing away, and opening the neighbourhood up to young families again. Closing schools because enrollment is dropping now will cause problems in 20 years when new families in the neighbourhood are clamouring for a new school to meet their needs.

I didn’t win the appointment to the board in August. The policy remained the same; neglecting established neighbourhoods and following sprawl development rather than being a catalyst for change and supporting community schools.

With the recent decision to level Scott Park and put up a parking lot, it is apparent that now, more than ever, we need a change in the direction of the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board.

That’s why I’m running for Public School Board Trustee in Ward One in the 2014 municipal election.

We need an ‘activist’ school board, one that helps make change in Hamilton. A progressive, forward thinking school board can be part of the change in this city, not part of the problem.

This is becoming desperately necessary for the simple reason that Hamilton is a rapidly changing city. We’re no longer the manufacturing centre we were fifty years ago. With the amazing growth in our post-secondary institutions, our burgeoning creative community, and the enthusiastic, engaged group of social justice advocates and local entrepreneurs, the city’s economic and political culture is shifting. In many ways, education is becoming the new currency of Hamilton.

We can become a centre of innovation, education, and progress, but only if our municipal institutions work in tandem with the amazing activists and change-makers in Hamilton. I know I can steer the conversation in that direction. I’ve been a labour activist, a student leader, a writer, debater, and researcher. I’ve served on municipal advisory committees, helped with participatory budgeting efforts, and run canned food drives across this great city of ours. Most of all, I know I can be the voice Ward One residents deserve.

When I moved to the Westdale/Ainslie Wood community a few years ago, I did so because I had fallen in love with the area after starting at McMaster University in 2008. The closeness of the community, the heritage of the area, and the vibrancy of the intersecting student and resident cultures made for a progressive, accepting, diverse community in which I felt I could thrive.

I could walk to nearly everything I needed. The diversity of the community meant I could feel safe and included. The involvement and engagement of the neighbourhood in local business, culture, and politics was inspiring.

Losing neighbourhood schools shook the community. The Dalewood ARC process and the subsequent decision regarding Prince Philip’s future fueled widespread anger because so many residents here value the walkability of our community. With some of the highest walkability scores in the city, local residents recognize that a healthy, vibrant community needs neighbourhood schools.

Over the next year, I’ll be reaching out to the residents of Ward One, talking about my platform of respecting local history and heritage in our schools, increasing public participation, providing meaningful involvement for students, promoting our diversity, and supporting strong, healthy neighbourhood schools. I’ll need your help, though. If you want to see change in our community, leave a comment here or tweet me @ChrisErl. I’ll be working to get my campaign going for early next year, so look for more opportunities to get involved when it officially begins.

I’m excited to be a part of such a crucial debate in a great community. I know that the voters of Ward One will get engaged, stay informed, and ask the crucial questions that need to be asked during an election campaign.

I want to stress that it is unfair to paint every trustee with the same brush. I know and respect some of the trustees on the board and will be running as a progressive candidate, not simply an anti-establishment candidate. West Hamilton is the perfect place to do this, with its strong progressive culture, amazing city councillor and stelar council candidates already working hard to get elected in 2014.

It’s time for an honest, constructive conversation. That’s what elections are for. That’s what I’ll help initiate, starting right now. That’s what the residents of Ward One deserve.

Aside: I recognize the HWDSB’s ward boundary changes haven’t yet been confirmed. If trustees vote to keep the existing boundaries, I will still be seeking election to the public school board in the combined seat of Wards One and Two. The residents of Ward Two are engaged and dynamic and, having campaigned there with Participatory Budgeting Ward Two over the summer, I’ve gained an appreciation for the great community downtown.
The issues that the public school supporters of Ward One face are similar to those experienced in Ward Two. There are different issues even between neighbourhoods in the different wards, but the policy direction and decision to so radically alter public education in Hamilton affect both communities equally.

11 Responses to “Why I’m running for Public School Board Trustee in 2014”

  1. Theresa McCuaig

    Wish you lived in Ward 3, where the Scott Park travesty will occur, Chris. Any suggestions for a Ward 3 candidate who is NOT an ecocidal nitwit?

    Reply
    • Chris Erl

      Thanks Theresa! I don’t know anyone personally in Ward Three, but I think that if the community really wants to see a change in direction at the HWDSB, progressive people need to work together to support a candidate with the enthusiasm, principles, and desire to be a trustee. I know the residents of Ward Three will find that candidate and I can promise that I’ll do my part in Ward One!

      Reply
  2. sunflowergrrrl

    If elected what steps, if any, would you take to keep Prince Philip open?

    Reply
    • Chris Erl

      Hi sunflowergrrrl,
      That’s a great question and I apologize for the length of my answer.
      My current information indicates that the HWDSB aims to have Prince Philip closed by September, 2014. Sadly, that’s during the election campaign. If elected, my term of office would not start until December 1, 2014.
      That being said, they’ve delayed closure before and they could certainly delay it again. If that happens, there are a few options I’d like to explore.
      Provincial funding requirements force school boards to consolidate because schools do not have as many pupils as spots available. Using creative urban planning solutions, we can ultimately change this.
      The province provides funding for 104 square feet of school space per student. Doing the calculations based on this funding model, there are 5,400 square feet of Prince Philip that are not being funded. That’s approximately 17% of the school. Original figures showed that the school was under-capacity by 21%, but that doesn’t take into consideration other spaces, such as administrative and other functional space.
      Based off this, an option is to do a “space audit” of the building. This was a process we used when I was involved in the McMaster Student Union to determine how to best use the scarce space we had in our student centre.
      By doing this for Prince Philip, we could determine a more functional school layout that, while ultimately smaller than what the school originally was, keeps it open. By moving classrooms and administrative offices, we can change the layout of the building to provide space for other uses.
      These other uses could be as simple as school board offices or municipal services. They could be a partnership between McMaster and the HWDSB to have auxiliary classes or testing rooms or offices for teaching and research assistants housed in unused classrooms. They could be partnerships with community organizations, non-profits, arts groups, or anyone who is in need of space. There are schools in the United States that share space with ESL programs, credit unions, and even corporate offices!
      This would necessitate rezoning the area as Major Institutional or (I3). There may be a necessity to examine zoning variances and shared-use agreements, but at least we would be taking steps to ensure the school remains open.
      There may be challenges to doing this, but we have to try new things if we want to keep our community schools open. I don’t buy the logic that school closings are the only option. If the requirements handed down from the province are too demanding, our school board trustees need to become stronger advocates and urge policy makers at Queen’s Park to empower school boards and communities to make the decisions that work best for them, not bureaucrats in Toronto.
      I fear that Prince Philip will be closed by the start of the next term of office. Hopefully, there will still be time to correct this mistake using creative, community-based solutions.

      Reply
      • Craig Burley

        Chris,

        I would note that part or possibly all of the unfunded Prince Philip space is represented by the portapak that is currently attached to the school. This can be removed if the school needs to move to a smaller footprint.

      • Chris Erl

        Hi Craig Burley,

        Thanks for letting me know about that. I wasn’t sure if the portables had been excluded from the discussion since, if the concern really is about space, they can simply remove the portables and shift those classes to the main building. My old middle school, Westview, did that a few years after I left. If they authorized closing Prince Philip based on under-enrolment while having easily removed excess space, then there is even more wrong with the process than I originally had thought!

  3. Mary Louise

    Hi Chris,

    The board’s ideal operating capacity is actually 85%. By that standard Prince Philip is very close to capacity, and in fact even the board’s pessimistic projections predicted PP’s enrollment would grow, and indeed last year it did. I don’t know about the numbers for this year, although I imagine they would be affected by the threat of closure, as these things inevitably are. The issue in the Dalewood ARC was never PP’s enrollment, but rather the overall enrollment for the cluster. Even that is questionable however, as the board only projected it to decline to 75% by 2020 – only 10% below their ideal capacity.

    It was never about enrollment numbers for the Dalewood ARC, although you can be forgiven for not knowing that due to the abysmal coverage in the Spec.

    PP will not close in 2015. The board hasn’t even put out the RFP for renovations to GR that were supposed to be starting this month. That said, by the time the 2014 election does roll around, too much money will have been spent on GR and Dalewood to go back.

    The Dalewood ARC was a politically motivated, evidence-free travesty. But I’m afraid a bitter lesson, and a community hungry for change are the only things that can be salvaged from it at this point.

    Reply
    • Chris Erl

      Hi Mary Louise,

      Thanks so much for providing that clarification. I do apologize for not having all the facts…through all the research I’ve done on the ARCs, the discussions that took place seem very, very confusing. Looking at the basic numbers for Prince Philip show that the school is not nearly as poorly maintained, nor was enrolment scheduled to decline as rapidly as some of the other schools subject to ARCs. Community members were clear in their desire to see every school in Westdale and Ainslie Wood remain open and, yet, the Board seems to have ignored the wishes of the community. It is truly baffling…

      Trustee Bishop’s page on the HWDSB website currently has a link to a document where she indicates the school will be closed in 2014: http://www.hwdsb.on.ca/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/Jbishop-2013-Prince-Philip-to-George-R-Schedule.pdf
      I hope this isn’t the case. I’d like to explore every option to keep every school in west Hamilton open. The parents and residents of Ward One are passionate and engaged and I know that everyone has ideas as to how to keep our community schools open and thriving.

      I’d really love to have an opportunity to sit down with the parents and community members affected by the Board’s decisions and hear what they’d like to see done differently as well as getting some help filling in the gaps in my information left by poor coverage of the situation and confusing information released by the HWDSB. That’s something I’d love to do more of in the coming months!

      Reply
  4. Mark Coakley

    Chris, I have 3 questions. What is your position regarding the application of the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act towards trustee votes that may affect the resale value of their residential property? Do you think that Judith Bishop acted ethically regarding Prince Philip (i.e. closure process triggered by phoney data hidden from the ARC, aggressive lobbying by J.B. for G.R.A., etc.)? Finally, the people of Ainsley Wood were recently betrayed by a trustee based in Westdale, who transferred assets from our neighbourhood to hers (and yours) — why should we trust you to be any better?

    Reply
    • Chris Erl

      Hi Mark,

      Great questions! I’ll do my best to answer them here.

      1. Conflict of interest is a major part of the ethics surrounding representative politics. The application of legislation on the issue is a good step to ensuring transparency and accountability from trustees. This will ensure what they do what is best for their community and the integrity of the democratic process. Trustees who violate this must be held to account.

      2. I believe Trustee Bishop did not act in the best way possible or in the best interest of the entire community when she became a cheerleader for George R. Allan over Prince Philip. The flawed ARC process and her geographic proximity to one school over the other certainly impacted her advocacy for G.R.A. and the ultimate decision to close Prince Philip. This, and the other decisions she has had a part of, is one of the reasons I’m standing in this upcoming election.

      3. It is completely understandable that the voters of Ainslie Wood will be suspicious of candidates who are all based out of the community that directly benefited from Trustee Bishop’s decision. More than being a ‘Westdale’ candidate, I am a ‘Ward One’ candidate. I am a Hamiltonian who recognizes the amazing potential and importance of each individual community in our city. I was born at St. Joe’s. I lived on the East Mountain and West Mountain as a kid. I spent a lot of time in Raleigh where my grandparents lived and worked in Ryckman’s Corners for years. When I first moved to the ward, I lived in Ainslie Wood, just off Leland. Right now, I live in Westdale North. I’ve loved every community I’ve lived in and worked in and interacted with because, above all else, I am a progressive Hamiltonian.
      Ward One is a dynamic and diverse place. Strathcona, Kirkendall, Ainslie Wood, Westdale, Chedoke, and McMaster each have distinct needs, wants, concerns, and values. An effective trustee will represent all of them without preference and take into account the needs of the residents of each. Advocating for one community over others just because they live there is an irresponsible thing for an elected official to do. I’ll be there for every parent and community member of our Ward, no matter where they live.
      But that’s a trust I’ll have to earn. I’ll have to prove myself over the course of the campaign and be as transparent as possible when in office.

      Reply

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