June 2015: Eastern Passage High School debate comments

I’m in complete agreement with board member Blumenthal-Harrison for calling-out bad decision-making. Although not a member of any of the boards that discussed an Eastern Passage high school over the years their slowly building ambivalence is abundantly clear from my reading of events: 14 years of on-again-off-again discussions and postponement, the delivery of a felling blow by the province’s own consultant, and a final board decision that effectively ended the discussion. By the time this board arrived on the scene in fall 2012 the Eastern Passage question was nowhere in sight and out-of-sight-out-of-mind it remained until, to everyone’s surprise, the province announced its construction.

I remember the disbelief among second-term board members and staff. The question of whether or not to build had already been addressed. Why was this happening? The frustration was clear. At that point it had been 14 years since the idea had first gained traction with the board. 10 years since board support had started to waver. 5 years since a failed facilities planning exercise had referenced it. And only a year since the board of the day experienced a reversal of support unanimous enough to remove it from the capital requests list. This school was not supposed to happen. And yet it did.

I share the frustration and unhappiness behind this motion. So many needs in the system. So much excess capacity. A marginalizing of board role and process – circumvented, undermined, and sidestepped. Not to mention the inevitable hard decisions to which it committed the board for the remaining schools in the family. This situation will stand as a model of flawed process.

But two wrongs do not make a right and this motion comes close to that for me. Another wrong. I think it’s useful for having highlighted the problem with the process but that’s possibly where my support of it ends. At this point it’s not obvious what tangible or intangible good might come from this motion.

We haven’t been asked for our opinion. We haven’t been invited to comment. The government has asserted in the legislature that it will be built. They haven’t said or implied that it would be conditional on our feedback. Or this motion. They haven’t reached out. And we have enough experience to be reasonably certain they won’t. And if that’s not enough to relieve us of any notions about an imagined place in the decision-making then the fact that Eastern Passage is a government-held riding should do the rest. At some point I heard it remarked that the Minister may have alluded to some faint willingness to attend to this but it would be optimistic of us to count on that. And risky. And something I’d suggest would be long odds from where we sit. To proceed with the motion given these circumstances seems ill-advised. And doomed. And for what?

If not because we stand a reasonable chance of succeeding then why proceed? To make a point? Are we in the business of making points? Or altruism? Are we feeling that we can’t in good conscience condone it or that any other use of the funds would be superior to this? If so, I’m still unconvinced. In fact I see it then in terms of its potential damage. Continuing along this course might lead other schools in the family to believe that we have some standing in this decision and that their circumstances will remain unchanged. But that strikes me as misleading. We risk filling them with false hope. And in the meantime we will have missed the opportunity to welcome an addition to the Eastern Passage community. It will have been a lose-lose proposition. Not of our own making and owing to circumstances beyond our control but a lose-lose nonetheless.

For me this motion has already served an important purpose. It has emphasized how important it is for the Province to act in concert with its own school boards. And that’s important. I am almost grateful to board member Blumenthal-Harrison for making an issue of it. But right now I’m not in agreement with what it proposes. Thank the government of the day, we will say to the people who end up adversely effected by this decision and to the taxpayers who feel their money is being mispent. But so far it’s been sufficiently demonstrated to me that our hands are tied. And beyond that it is my hope that none of us is so attached to making a point or thinking our disapproval so important that we’d cut off our nose to spite our face.

I went to Conrad’s with my kids on Saturday. They did a good deal of their summertime growing along this stretch of shore and it had been a long time since we’d been back. We returned by way of Cole Harbour Road, taking a left at Caldwell and zigzagging at the other end to check in on the moose at Cow Bay, backtracking to Eastern Passage in search of an ice cream store that no longer exists. And all along the way and because my memory is tragically imprecise I kept saying, Oh, this must be where the new high school is meant to go, until finally one of my daughters said, You’ve said that three times.

At which point I finally admitted that I couldn’t remember the exact location. But the reason I mention this is because there WERE, it seemed to me, that many spots in this now sizable and well-populated area that a school might be built. And that was striking because my recollection of Eastern Passage did not feature such growth. And that led me to my next thought, Why not Eastern Passage? It clearly has merit. I am listening and participating in this debate with an open mind but these are the thoughts and concerns I bring to it.

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