Board will save itself a lot of grief by releasing document to the public
© Guardian photo
Cynthia Fleet, English language school board superintendent
Opposition Leader Steven Myers calls it a report. English Language School Board superintendent Cynthia Fleet calls it a legal opinion. It still cost the taxpayers of this province $17,000 and Mr. Myers is right when he said the public is entitled to see it.
By refusing to release the opinion, most people will conclude there is something controversial and secretive afoot. And the next logical conclusion is that this opinion is the first step in another round of school closures and the board is simply trying to reduce future public opposition.
What other logical conclusion is there?
Mr. Myers may have gotten a little exuberant when he questioned Ms. Fleet during a legislative education and innovation committee meeting last week but the basic premise of his argument is correct.
For opponents to accept any decision on future closures, the process needs to be transparent.
Ms. Fleet argues the board hasn’t commissioned a report on school closures, but rather has sought a legal opinion on future consultations about possible changes. What else could those changes be, except closures? It won’t be about staffing, class sizes or curriculum but will be about rezoning, consolidation and closures.
Ms. Fleet opines that if the board determines a significant change is needed at a school, it wants to ensure an appropriate process is followed involving the community and parents. When are parents ever consulted about decisions on class sizes? The significant change will be closure.
And when Ms. Fleet says it’s important for the whole province to have an understanding of what would be a fair process, well a good start will be to release that $17,000 legal opinion.
Mr. Myers was again correct that when you involve lawyers, the discussion isn’t about educational matters or what’s best for the students, or public consultation, but rather that some secret deal is afoot and damage control is the key concern of the board.
What else would so enrage parents who might resort to litigation and court costs, which Ms. Fleet is so concerned about?
It’s about cutting costs and making a business decision on declining enrolments and half empty schools in some rural areas of the province.
Ms. Fleet replied she resented the fact Mr. Myers was acting in an accusatory way when he pressed home the attack that something secretive was going on. That’s not a denial. And by withholding the legal opinion, doesn’t it prove Mr. Myers’s argument that something secretive is going on?
When Mr. Myers continued his questions on the opinion, Ms. Fleet said it was a matter of solicitor-client privilege and will be made public when the trustees are ready to begin consultations. The client is the school board, under the direction of trustees and a chair. They apparently haven’t seen the report either.
Her final comment should be a warning. “I’ve never said that schools will be closed in this province.” She also hasn’t said that schools won’t be closed.
This legal opinion can only be step one in what procedures to follow — legal, public and otherwise — should the board embark on more closures or more likely, when the board embarks on more closures.