Tag: Thinking Outside the School

Are School Trustees Urban Planners?

Are school trustees urban planners? No.

Do decisions made by school board trustees impact city planning? Absolutely.

Twitter: Nov 7th 2012: “@michaeljanz: For the record- last tue at #epsb I argued to include new schools in our capital plan. There are kids in the SW #yeg who really need them.”

Part of the reason I ran for the school board was that I wanted to see a more integrated approach to how we build our communities– with the provincial, municipal, and school boards working together. Although it doesn’t get the same headlines as school closure related issues, I’m thrilled that our board has been working hard on many initiatives for kids like the anti-bullying work, special needs task force, and district priorities. 90% of my time I’m dealing with Education Policy related matters and hence why I’ve chosen to pursue a Masters in Education Policy Studies and not a Masters in urban planning!

I’m glad our board had the opportunity to participate in the community sustainability task force and I hope it leads to more collaborative planning in the future. I look forward to a more coordination and discussion in the future!

Like city council, we need to understand that a city is a complex organism and decisions made by one level of government have dramatic effects upon other entities. Political decisions made in isolation can trigger trickle-down effects that severely impact the work of other levels of government.

If the School Board decides to open a new school, change a neighbourhood school to a magnet site, move yellow bus service, or close a school, all of these decisions have urban planning applications for the whole neighbourhood. Conversely, if the city is going to make transportation decisions that lead to unsafe streets around schools, even though that decision isn’t the jurisdiction of school trustees, you can bet that they should speak up!

Edmonton’s growth plan (in practice) continues to be sprawl-baby-sprawl and has not made family and seniors-friendly infill densification a priority. There’s some nice language in The Way We Grow but in reality development continues outside rather than inside the Henday. Continuing to green-light more sprawl neighbourhoods creates enormous pressure on school boards to meet the educational needs of families who are living further and further away from existing schools.

In the short term, I do support new schools in areas of need. In the long-term, I hope that we will be able to incentivize more families to return to existing neighbourhoods where we have already paid for services. But this won’t happen overnight, and the buck stops with the city of Edmonton and the capital region board on growth decisions. Until then, wherever the children live in Edmonton, we have an obligation to ensure they receive a top-notch Edmonton Public education.

If the city changed its development priorities we could get more families back into our mature neighbourhoods, keep schools open, and save money. The school board could save on transportation and hire more teachers instead. It’s the fiscally prudent thing to do.

If established communities want to keep their schools open— Separate or Public—then we need to make it easy for the kids to live where the schools already are.

The Mayor is right, we do need a variety of housing choices in the city, but we also need a variety of housing choices in the neighbourhoods we have already built! We’ve already invested billions of dollars in the core of our city in our schools, playgrounds, parks, and pools, let’s not let it waste and crumble!

Public invitation to our School Closure Moratorium Committee Meetings

These meetings will be held in public at the dates and times below. In an effort to increase our transparency and the public dialogue about the pressures the district is facing with regard to school space, we will be hosting our committee meetings in public. This is common practice with Edmonton City Council and I think is a step in the right direction for our board and I would like to see more committees move in this direction in future.

Planning on attending? Can’t make it? Fire your feedback over to michael@michaeljanz.ca. I look forward to hearing from you.

Click on the invitation for it to open in a new browser window. You can download the .jpg and I’d encourage you to email it or post it at your local community center.

Please share this invitation

Our team is working hard to find long-term solutions to strong schools and strong communities

Why I voted for the moratorium…

Why I voted in favor of a two-year moratorium on school closures.

Tuesday evening, the Edmonton Public School Board voted 7-2 on the motion for a renewable moratorium on two year school closure.

I have received many thought-provoking letters from residents indicating their support or their concerns with the motion. Some believed that it reduced the board’s flexibility and opportunity to make decisions. Others thought that the moratorium might not be long enough. There are still many unanswered questions from residents about why we are closing schools, why we are opening so many new schools, why only certain sectors were targeted and if the district has a comprehensive future plan for space needs.

If we did not pass the moratorium yesterday, we could be facing more closure recommendations as soon as next month.

As a district, we are just starting the tri-level discussions to move forward and we have an unprecedented opportunity to work with our partners in the Province, the City, and with Edmonton Catholic. Mayor Mandel and the city are interested in working together and a moratorium shows that we will be partners in good faith in this process as opposed to closing schools with one hand while trying to revitalize neighbourhoods with the other.

We also have began the process of allowing our community schools equal support (circa Trustee Huff’s motion last year to work towards equal support for community schools), reviewing our central organization and elements of site-based decision making, and I feel it would not be prudent to move ahead at this time until we have our ducks in a row.

So what does a two-year renewable moratorium on school closures do?

It directs the EPSB Board and administration to work together on creative solutions instead of school closures and examine the complete costs of school closures. It gives clarity of direction from our board that this is the direction that we would like to move and that closing 19 schools in 10 years requires us to pause and revisit our needs.

From conversations with my colleagues I know our board isn’t afraid of making tough decisions, but we just want to make sure that they are tough, but fully-informed decisions.

The data surrounding the performance or quality of education for students who attend small schools is inconclusive. The cost savings accrued to the district from closing a school are unclear, if there are any. With an absence of clear motive and justification, why continue to aggressively close schools that we the taxpayers have built, paid for, and been using for years?  Is it because space is being inappropriately measured, often failing to allocate for before and after school care, libraries, computer rooms, etc.?   If schools have to close, where, and how many of them? By my rough estimate we would need to close almost half of the schools in the city to balance our plant operations deficit. Or is it because we lack the proper operational funding from the proper places to provide the space and services required for learning?

Many schools I have spoken to have said that they could have dramatically higher enrollment if we cut the red tape surrounding the limits on these small schools. Many families told me that the one choice our district undervalues is the choice of the community school, and the very valid reasons that families select it. It gives our district a chance to review many of our spaces and work with community groups and other levels of government to take into account the needs of our communities and create the best possible educational outcomes for every student.

We need to make sure that we are being fair and consistent with everyone, especially with the outcome of a decision is as serious as a school closure. This is an infinitely more complicated issue that cannot be simplified to a false dichotomy of “Buildings or kids.”

The elephant in the room here is that we are running two public education systems with competing infrastructure needs, competing for the same students. (Both Catholic and non-Catholic students attend both Separate and Public schools.) Our tri-level discussions give us an opportunity to look for collaborative opportunities with the Separate system.

When given a problem, it is crucial that we make absolutely clear that we are asking the right questions. A moratorium gives us time to make sure we are seeking the right answers to the real problem.

As Trustee Christopher “CKLS” Spencer quoted:

“We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims.” Richard Buckminster Fuller (US engineer and architect, 1895-1983 )

Reading (on the) Railroad

I began yesterday morning with an LRT trip to the Century Park Station. Edmonton Public Library’s first book “vending machine” was installed this morning to serve transit commuters with their morning book fix. As one of the trustees for the Edmonton Public Library, I was thrilled to see an enthusiastic media there in full force. You can read more about the pilot program by clicking here and here.

The link between Edmonton Public Schools and the Edmonton Public Library is obvious.

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Scona Pool Stays Afloat for Schools and Communities

It looks like Scona Pool will tread water for another year. After a vote last night, the city’s Community Services Committee decided to recommend that this iconic community pool receive funding in the next municipal budget.

This is great news for the residents of Ward F, especially those of us that spoke with our city councilors and urged them to keep Scona Pool open. As the Marketing Director for the Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues, I know how important this pool is to healthy, liveable neighbourhoods. I also happen to be a frequent user of the pool myself, so last week I did my part to help with the effort. You can read my letter to the councilors on the Community Services Committee by clicking here.

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