An unfortunate part of our society is that those focused on balancing budgets end up deflating imagination, robbing us of community and narrowing our values to being primarily economic in nature. We are seeing the consequences of this now where our “responsible” leaders and trustees are making decisions on behalf of our community to possibly close SCITS. The LKDSB board proposal is only financial in nature, lacks creative solutions and will scatter community in unhealthy ways. Not only does their proposal neglect to speak to their responsibilities as a board it also fails to make a sound financial argument as to why SCITS should close.
The #SaveSCITS campaign is a remarkable grassroots effort that has effectively shown the problems in the LKDSB’s case along with bringing to light other arguments that were not even considered. These arguments include the negative effect on Downtown Sarnia and Mitton Village and their businesses, the closing of the biggest auditorium in Sarnia, the land value of St. Clair vs SCITS, the community use of the school and many other issues. They also have successfully pointed out the problems with LKDSB’s financial conclusions offering alternative and more honest approaches to the numbers. Not to mention the City of Sarnia released a report that also makes a strong case against the LKDSB recommendations.
In the Education Act we see the role of the board trustee:
A trustee’s role is to maintain a focus on student achievement and well-being and to participate in making decisions that benefit the entire board district while representing the interests of his or her constituents. Trustees must also communicate the views and decisions of the board back to their constituents.
The board has tried to tell us that it is not their responsibility to consider the communities that they find themselves in which is a horrendous negligence to their responsibility according to the Education Act. It was obvious that this was just a math problem for someone to solve (in which they did a poor job at solving) rather than a situation for the community to engage with to determine the best course of action. It is good that Sarnia citizens recognized the greater impact that closing SCITS would have and that they pushed back on the short-sighted recommendations.
There is nothing in the trustee role that talks about economics and balancing budgets but in a culture that puts an economic value on everything it is no wonder that the board is only operating through that lens. “Benefiting the entire board district” does not simply mean financial. It is a shame that the LKDSB recommendations to shut down one of Sarnia’s most important institutions was reduced to a pile of numbers; numbers that were full of errors, assumptions and failed to acknowledge complexity. The proposal suspiciously looks like a decision was made and then haphazard proofs tossed together after to try and prove their predetermined preference.
To make matters worse, of the thirteen trustees who will be making this decision for Sarnia, only three of them represent Sarnia. Are we supposed to just pray to the gods that the other ten can make healthy decisions for us? Do we just hope that all thirteen of them trust that we know our community and what is best for us and that they will work with us rather than force decisions onto our community from the outside?
What is at stake is significantly greater than just closing the doors of a building we all like. Unfortunately the rhetoric from LKDSB leadership is just a mirage to mask their motivations to give the impression that they care about student success when really they care about financial success by balancing budgets rather than the communities that they find themselves in. When LKDSB Chairperson, Jane Bryce says “we need to look into the future and see what’s best for students in 40, 50 years, not just what’s going to be best for the next five years,” it is an attempt to placate and mask their true intentions which are shown in their report. Saying this and then closing SCITS is the equivalent of Trump arguing for free speech and then suing his opponents for making fun of him.
A forty to fifty year investment has little to do with money. You cannot make good financial decisions that will be best for someone fifty years down the road. No one knows the future that far ahead. Those kinds of multi-generational investments are about relationships, community and a holistic approach to education and health that includes all aspects of a city. The fact that the LKDSB recommendations only considered financial ramifications and benefits (while coating them in rhetoric about student success and access) shows us that they should not be the kinds of people that we trust with the well being of our community.
In terms of creativity, it is disheartening to see such push back from the board and lack of imagination. The community is stepping up and offering solutions, ideas and sound feedback to their presentation and the board doesn’t seem to be able to see past it’s poorly constructed proposal. Why not turn St. Clair into the much anticipated Sherwood village elementary school and amalgamate the high schools at SCITS? Why not see an auditorium as a benefit to student education and success? Why not see relationships with local businesses as critical to student well-being? Creativity is lost when you make a decision first and then try to force it on unwilling participants. This kind of decision making is not good for communities or the students that should be a priority. As the #SaveSCITS campaign has demonstrated, there are much better solutions available if only the board can separate themselves from previously held beliefs that are based on misinformation and stacked numbers.
We in Sarnia know what a forty to fifty year investment looks like. We pour our lives into this community, not just our money, and we are committed to making Sarnia a place that doesn’t make community decisions based on financial planning alone. Our good investments come from valuing community, creativity and then we use good financial planning to accomplish those goals. We aren’t interested in having leaders that show financial arguments irrespective of our values. Saving SCITS is about fighting against short-sightedness and those who are only driven by agendas by external factors that don’t have our best interests in mind. We should be financially responsible but as a response to good decisions not the motivator of them. Community health should come first and then we figure out how to make it work financially, rather than seeing what can work financially and having community impact as a second thought.