NOVA SCOTIA HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY
Tuesday, June 28, 2016
Hub School Model
& Appointments to Agencies, Boards and Commissions
Printed and Published by Nova Scotia Hansard Reporting Services
STANDING COMMITTEE ON HUMAN RESOURCES
Mr. Chuck Porter (Chairman)
Mr. Gordon Wilson
Ms. Joyce Treen
Mr. Stephen Gough
Mr. David Wilton
Mr. Eddie Orrell
Ms. Karla MacFarlane
Hon. Denise Peterson-Rafuse
Ms. Marian Mancini
[Mr. Joachim Stroink replaced Mr. Chuck Porter]
[Mr. Bill Horne replaced Mr. David Wilton]
[Ms. Lenore Zann replaced Ms. Marian Mancini]
Ms. Monica Morrison
Legislative Committee Clerk
Mr. Gordon Hebb
Chief Legislative Counsel
Mr. Bob Fowler, Chairman of the School Review Committee
HALIFAX, TUESDAY, JUNE 28, 2016
STANDING COMMITTEE ON HUMAN RESOURCES
Mr. Chuck Porter
MS. JOYCE TREEN (Chairman): Good morning everyone, I’d like to call the meeting to order. This is the Standing Committee on Human Resources. My name is Joyce Treen, I’m from Cole Harbour-Eastern Passage, and I will be chairing the meeting today.
In addition to ABCs, we will be receiving a presentation from Mr. Robert Fowler on the hub school model. I ask that all members introduce yourself and your constituency.
[The committee members introduced themselves.]
MADAM CHAIRMAN: I ask all the members to put their phones on vibrate or turn them off so there will be no interruptions. The washrooms are located outside, in the other room, and there’s coffee and water out there as well. If there should be a fire we should leave at the Granville Street entrance and proceed to the Parade Square.
I welcome Mr. Fowler - if you would like to introduce yourself and begin your presentation, please.
MR. BOB FOWLER: I go by Bob, if people don’t mind. Robert is only what my mother used to call me. I’m pleased to be here. I did do a short presentation but I did it more for context than I did to actually focus on the hub school, because the engagement I had with the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development back in 2013 and 2014 was around the school review process and hub schools were part of that review.
Madam Chairman, I will go through the presentation shortly and then be open to any questions anyone has.
I was asked to undertake the review - people may know I’m a long-time proud Nova Scotia public servant. I served for 34.5 years, the last 4.5 years as deputy minister to three Premiers, I guess I could probably say - or two and a couple of days. I had been retired four years when I was asked by Honourable Ramona Jennex if I would chair an internal committee of government. It was a committee largely made up of public servants, civil servants, with the addition of a school superintendent; Ford Rice from the Strait Regional School Board; and the Executive Director of the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities, Betty MacDonald.
We did a discussion paper which I’m sure some of you may have seen. If not, that’s what it looked like. It was produced in November 2013 in both English and French and circulated quite widely around the province as a discussion paper.
I had assumed my work was done once I had chaired that, but as you would be aware, there was an event that occurred in the early Fall of that year: an election. Then the new Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development, the Honourable Karen Casey, asked me if I would chair the consultation committee.
I was the sole full-time person working on the consultation committee and there were individuals appointed from each of the areas where we were having public meetings across the province. That produced another paper, a series of 19 recommendations to the Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development. That was done in late February - I think I actually presented it to the minister in April 2014. In an event that took place across the hall, the minister publicly accepted in principle all 19 of the recommendations of the committee. I should say that while I authored the report, it had the full support of the eight community representatives who geographically participated in the review.
The minister accepted all 19 recommendations in principle but did say that some recommendations would take innovative solutions and would take cross-departmental co-operation to implement. That basically is a short summary of my involvement; I basically was finished. I appeared with the minister in April 2014 when she presented the recommendations, and that was my last formal involvement of any sort with the department or with government in relation to the school review process.
Having said that, I did receive a number of phone calls from various people across the province, inquiring about certain things that were said in the report or recommended in the report. I also did for a short period of time provide some counsel free of charge - as I am a resident of Caribou Island in Pictou County - to the folks in River John as they in the early days explored a hub school concept. Ms. MacFarlane would be aware - she was at a couple of the meetings I was at as well. As I said, that was unpaid and volunteer, just trying to give them some direction of the realities I thought they would face proposing a hub school at that time.
Madam Chairman, that would be the substance of my presentation. I’d be happy to address questions that members have in regard to the school review process and the hub school as part of the school review.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much. I ask if you could direct all your questions through the Chair for the sake of our recorders in there, so they can follow our conversation. Mr. Stroink.
MR. JOACHIM STROINK: Thank you very much for your presentation. You have a huge responsibility for the Province of Nova Scotia addressing these issues.
Just for some clarity of government’s role in school closures versus a school board’s role in school closures - for the people around the table and for Hansard - can you explain the difference of what it kind of means? What is a school board’s role and what is government’s role.
MR. FOWLER: I want to be careful here - I am not prepared, nor should I be, to talk about the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development policy. I am a retired person who did a consultant piece of work so I want to be careful that I am not misrepresented as speaking on behalf of the department, either positively or negatively.
MS. STROINK: So maybe your understanding would be better.
MR. FOWLER: My understanding clearly would be, throughout, we did address the subject of who should be responsible for the school review process. That was in the discussion paper and also in the public consultation. It was very clear that people in Nova Scotia, those who appeared before us - it was very clear from everyone, with a few naysayers, that school boards should be responsible for the school review process.
A school review may, as you know, lead to a school closure and, in fact, probably should in some cases lead to a school closure. The school review process, particularly the newer process - the one that the committees I chaired was involved with - my understanding was that because it has placed more responsibility on the school boards to be communicative and with more full disclosure to those interested in the school review process, the long-range planning part of that process is in fact receiving more positive feedback from those involved. It doesn’t mean they like it.
I would use probably the example that I’ve watched the most closely recently would be the work of the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board. That board had not historically closed very many schools. I believe - and you may correct me - there are 21 that went on the list this year. While I think it’s very difficult for many of those communities - parents, kids, those involved - everything I’ve heard from the board and the community - the few people I’ve talked to and I’ve been down to Cape Breton - was that they did feel they got lots of good information because of the looking inward process, or long-range planning process the board went through. So very clearly, school boards are responsible for the school review process. The minister and the department really provide the guidelines and the direction of the actual process and the decision rests with the boards.
MR. STROINK: Thank you very much for that. It’s great to hear that people are feeling comfortable with the process that has been outlined. Like you said, they might not like the recommendations. I guess that’s where it gets kind of interesting and I guess my understanding is that communities really do not want government involved in their thing and really want school boards to lead this discussion. In your process it seems like school boards are leading that charge and with that guidance - is that a fair statement to say?
MR. FOWLER: That would be my understanding, but I have to acknowledge I’m not as close to this as I once was.
MR. STROINK: Okay, thank you very much.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Ms. MacFarlane.
MS. KARLA MACFARLANE: Earlier you mentioned that, after the Education and Early Childhood Development Minister accepted the 19 recommendations in principle and made it public, you sort of went on your way. Would you have liked to have been, or would you like to be, involved in ensuring that the 19 recommendations are followed through?
MR. FOWLER: I suppose when one has ownership in a process one has an interest. I have to be honest, that was a paid piece of work, I was paid to do the work. I did the work, I’m proud of the work that we and the committee did but I’m done.
MS. MACFARLANE: Thank you, I’ll accept that. I’m just wondering, though, do you see anywhere in the province right now where the hub model may be implemented? Specifically I’m thinking of Louisbourg right now. I know they’re coming very close, the committee in River John has been helping as well and communicating with them and doing whatever we can to ensure that that will come to fruition. I’m just wondering what your opinion is on that.
MR. FOWLER: I’m not super close to that but I have followed it through the Cape Breton Post and other media reports and talked to a couple of people who live down that way. They certainly have a committee that by my estimation is very enthusiastic. They seem to have a very broad-based community support.
What isn’t clear to me, and I’m not sure is clear yet to the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board is, are there folks who are prepared to put up some money to make it happen? In my humble opinion - and I said this, this was said in both the discussion paper and reiterated in our recommendations - a hub school not only takes guidelines from the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development but ensures the safety of our kids and all those good things, because after all, a school board is in place primarily for the education of our children.
But the reality is that there have to be sources of viable funding - both short term, to get something off the ground, and then longer term, to maintain progress. I think where we haven’t seen that come to fruition, we’ll see it with the hub school. My hope would be that somehow Louisbourg finds a way to bring that to the table.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Mr. Wilson.
MR. GORDON WILSON: I don’t know an awful lot about hub schools, I will say. That’s one of the privileges of being on these committees is that you get to learn. This is something new, from what I understand. Prior to 2013 we didn’t have any guidelines around hub schools.
MR. FOWLER: That’s correct.
MR. GORDON WILSON: It’s good to see that we have moved into that world. We have created new guidelines for hub schools and we do have a new policy for school reviews, so it’s in its infancy, I guess, in a sense.
Do you know, and would you be able to say, is the hub school model something for every school? Maybe more particularly, I’d like to have your opinion on where you think the hub school model fits best. I’m not, from what I’ve studied on it, convinced that it is designed to be something to save a school. I’d like to hear your opinion on the principles of a hub school.
MR. FOWLER: Okay, where do I start this? A hub school is not for every school. A hub school, in my humble opinion, was never meant to save a school. It may ideally allow for an education program to stay in a community where otherwise it wouldn’t, because of creative innovative partnerships.
Now what do I mean by that? I think the hub school guidelines produced by the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development are inclusive, comprehensive and well done but they do make one assumption. They make an assumption that the school board will, in fact, own the school and partner with other groups. There is a hub school model that I understand has worked internationally - in the U.S., I’m trying to remember where it was, Minnesota, maybe - where in fact the school became the property of a community organization and the school program became a component of that community organization. So it’s a different model. I may be wrong. Maybe the hub school guidelines produced by the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development do contemplate that, but I couldn’t see where when I did a quick review the other day, so that’s a different model.
I think there is a place for a hub school; I think it can work. I’ll be honest, I can long remember the former Deputy Minister of Education, Dennis Cochrane, when he sat around the deputies’ table that I chaired, saying over and over again, we’ve got to find a way to keep kids - particularly Grade 3 and less - off school buses for long, long drives. I must say that swayed me a bit throughout the process. I was always sensitive to parents who raised the issue of younger children being on buses for a long period of time. That isn’t, again, the reason to save a school if it’s not economically viable, so you’ve got sort of a give and take on that.
I believe there is room for a hub school model but I think it will take innovation and as we said in our report, it will take the province finding a way to come to the table to help support. That’s not with a great big cheque; I’m not talking about just money. I think there is an opportunity with our great history of community economic development in this province to find a way to support an education component as part of a broader community partnership.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Mr. Wilson, do you have another question?
MR. GORDON WILSON: No, that was good, thanks.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Mr. Horne.
MR. BILL HORNE: Thank you for coming today to try to clarify what hub schools are about. I assume you may be aware of other hub schools - you may not have mentioned yet - that might have the ability of being a proper mix. How would government or other departments participate in that, if indeed they should?
MR. FOWLER: If you are asking specifically about Nova Scotia, I don’t know of others today that are active. I’m sure there are others, I think even in the Cape Breton-Victoria board, there are a couple of other school communities that are looking at it but haven’t been as public about the process, so I’m not that familiar.
If you go back, if you look at a place like in Guysborough County, you have Chedabucto Place which is obviously a community school. It’s a school that has a large non-school board activity program, so that’s a form of a hub school. The SchoolsPlus program the department currently is expanding, I guess, would be called a hub school of a sort. A true hub school where you’re talking about children in a classroom between 8:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. and next door there being some other either business or government enterprise operating in a safe and secure manner away from the students - a community partnership, either led by the school board or the school board participating with it - I’m not aware of any of those now but I think there’s a possibility that could happen.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Do you have another question, Mr. Horne?
MR. HORNE: I just wanted to talk a little bit about government departments, maybe other than the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development’s involvement in hub schools, if they should be at all, is that something that should be considered?
MR. FOWLER: I think there’s opportunity for that but not necessarily conventional. Now I’m going to search my history, if I may, Madam Chairman, a little. I’m trying to think, Clare-Argyle-Digby way, there’s a school that for a long time had a mink research facility associated with it. I’m trying to think where it is. Somewhere down that way the Department of Agriculture operated out of part of a school property, I understood, so things like that are possible.
We talk a lot about the new Nova Scotia with the Ivany report and Engage Nova Scotia. I guess my hope as an individual citizen would be that out of that would come the kind of synergy that would bring other departments to the table, quite possibly with existing programs that could creatively partner with Education around a school program. I think of seniors, I mean who better to influence our children than seniors, so is there something that the Department of Seniors could do with a select community or a certain community with their program? Are there things that the department of economic development can do, and I must admit that I’m not even sure exactly the mandates of departments now, I’m a little out of touch.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: We don’t have that department.
MR. FOWLER: What is it called? You see, there you go.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: It’s the Department of Business now.
MR. FOWLER: Sorry, the Department of Business, I’m a little out of touch, I apologize, Madam Chairman.
Are there opportunities to bring things together, to act as a catalyst for that kind of change? I think one of the things that Nova Scotia is becoming increasingly famous for is its innovative, young entrepreneurs who want to stay home. I say this as an individual citizen - are there things we could be doing differently that could involve an education program? I think we have to think out of the box if we’re going to make things like that happen.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Ms. Zann.
MS. LENORE ZANN: Thank you for coming in today. Obviously this topic has been talked about a lot in our Legislature and in the social media. I’ve been quite active on the file, as you probably are aware, trying to help a couple of the smaller schools to stay open. When the hub model idea was first floated, I know a few of them - three in particular - that jumped on the opportunity and really tried to twist themselves into pretzels to come up with interesting, innovative ideas that could be used in those schools that were slated to close.
It was interesting because I also saw that recommendations from the school review process discussion papers say, “In all analysis of a school or subsystem/family of schools, an assessment of the value of a school as a focal point in the community should be included to ensure potential innovative partnerships and solutions support retaining an educational program in the community. During a family of schools review, there should be a mechanism to assess the desire, willingness, and ability and capacity of a community to contribute to innovative solutions for identified issues in an area.” That’s from the School Review Process Study discussion paper.
I’m not quite sure where it went wrong in the process, say for instance, for River John that worked for two years on trying to meet the requirements and the standards they were told by the school board that they needed to do. They came up with many different suggestions, ideas, businesses, creative arts programs, and things like that. They felt that every time they came up with something it felt like there was a higher and higher hoop to jump through, until at the very end they were told they had to pay $500,000 for a roof for the school, which they said they just couldn’t afford.
Could you maybe talk us through that a little bit and say, well, where did they go wrong? They seemed to do everything that was required and yet they still were turned down. I believe there were 70 students in the end - 72 students, which is quite a number for a small rural community that wants to keep their school in the heart of the community. Could you maybe give us some insight into where they may have gone wrong in that process?
MR. FOWLER: I guess I wouldn’t characterize it as going wrong. I think they put their best foot forward, I think they had an active group but in the last documentation I saw from the River John group, if you were a school board member sitting on the other side, you would probably struggle with where the sustainability of that model was.
That’s where I think if we truly want hub school models - if we want to try one - there probably needs to be some sort of transition process. Some of the things they were proposing in River John - like the creative arts centre, I can’t remember what they called it now - they needed a year to get going so they probably needed transition funding. I’m not laying that at anybody’s particular doorstep. I’m just saying they didn’t have the capacity to carry something for that period of time.
They had a willing municipality and I think if there had been a way for somebody to step up - it wasn’t the school board to take money from other school programs to make that happen. I don’t think parents in other areas would have liked that so that wasn’t going to be, that was a non-starter. I think what we needed was some way to see its proof of concept - will it work? I think that’s where that particular group was not able to meet the bar.
Again if I may, please remember that when individuals run for a school board - at least the individuals I’ve talked to - they run because they are concerned about educating our kids. So we introduce a whole new variable when we start talking about broader community dynamics, maybe giving up control of a building, giving up part of the building to somebody else to use. Those are concepts it will take a while for school boards to grab on to and understand their liabilities. There’s all kinds of nuances in this that make it more challenging.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Ms. Zann, do you have another question?
MS. ZANN: I do just have a follow-up question. There was an article in the Amherst News in February 27, 2015, and it reported that Patterson Law analyzed documents and found that the school review process seemed to be biased in favour of closure of schools.
I appreciate that you don’t speak for anybody at this point other than yourself - you are in retirement and obviously don’t want to get involved with politics or policy of the model. But I’m just wondering if you’d like to talk about what steps could be taken to eliminate maybe or reduce that kind of bias.
I’d also like to add in there that when I first became an MLA in Truro, in the very first meeting I had with the CCRSB School Board, they said, please tell your government to stop the moratorium on closures of small schools, we want to close these small schools. All of the schools that we’re talking about were on that list at that time. That was back in 2009.
MR. FOWLER: I didn’t see that article in the Amherst paper. I would be surprised personally, as chairman of the committee, if they were referring to the new school review process because truthfully, by the winter of 2015, the boards were just beginning to implement the new process with the long-range planning family of school reviews; I stand to be corrected on that.
The hard core reality is school boards are allocated a certain amount of funds, based on what the province can provide. If you read the discussion paper, it’s kind of stark when you look at the diminishing enrolments. Nova Scotia is a rural-cum-urban wannabe province. Our rural municipalities, our rural areas are struggling in terms of maintaining population and you need critical mass to support programs. I think some of that comes into play.
There are schools - and I don’t mind saying this, I feel very strongly - there are schools that it makes perfect sense to close. Does it create some hardships on some families? Yes, it will. It’s unfortunate but if you think what a school board member has to do, they have to think of the greater good of all the students in there and how many oil bills can we afford and how many roofs can we replace and how many so on and so forth. Their task is not easy.
In our province, school boards obviously are a creature of the province. They don’t have taxing powers so they’re solely dependent on the province for their funding. Then they are empowered, as I believe they should be, to make the very difficult decisions in the best interests of our students.
MS. ZANN: Thank you.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Ms. MacFarlane.
MS. MACFARLANE: You use the words “economic viability” as well as “government enterprise.” I don’t disagree that the River John hub is clever, and as wonderful as I believe the whole model was, there were some worries about the financials. I certainly would not want to be one of the individuals on the school board having to make the decisions. It’s a tough place to be.
My concern is that a lot of these schools that are being threatened to have to close are obviously in rural areas. These are places where we’re witnessing businesses closing as well. Twenty years ago in Pictou County we had over 20,000 students; as we speak today we have a little over 10,000. So until people start making more babies, I think we have a real, colossal issue here in dealing with what we’re going to do with our rural schools.
You mentioned government enterprise, though. I do know that the hub model they hope to implement in Louisbourg is going to include apparently a federal office, so they will have a continuous, guaranteed revenue stream. Is it something that you think would be an option here in Nova Scotia, to perhaps move out some government offices into rural areas to help offset the cost?
I look right now - there was the AGM for the Chignecto-Central Regional School Board here a couple of weeks ago and they had a surplus of over $600,000. I find that mind-boggling when we’re closing schools that have 70, 80 students. I’m just curious what your thought is in moving government offices out to maybe help pay the rent?
MR. FOWLER: I believe it’s business-case driven. I don’t think it works everywhere but I think with Louisbourg, because of its geography, and whatever federal department may have a mandate in that area, that it makes sense to be there.
I can tell you that during the consultation I had a gentleman appear at one of the consultations - I won’t say where or who - who was very concerned that if the hub school model worked and people started renting space in schools, either run by the school board or run by a community corporation, it would mean they won’t be renting from him and his businesses. So you have that ebb and flow, push and take of that kind of issue.
I think if there’s a business case for it, it makes perfect sense, but it’s not going to happen. I mean I think of my days in Community Services and it doesn’t make sense to have a Community Services office in every area, even though it would be nice to be that much closer. You can’t geographically sustain that kind of model because then what you’re doing is you are taking money away from the clients and putting it into, if I may, bureaucracy.
MS. MACFARLANE: Thank you very much.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Mr. Orrell.
MR. EDDIE ORRELL: I guess my biggest question is, what is the ideal situation for a hub school? How much would the person or the school or the committee or development in the committee have to put in to, say, a small school in Louisbourg - we’ll use that for example because they’re in the middle of it right now. What percentage of their expenses, or how much revenue would they have to generate in order to maintain that, looking at the cost of taking those students from one school and busing them to another school that may be, we’ll say, a half an hour away? The cost of the bus driver, the cost of the bus, the cost of maintenance, the cost of the fuel and the cost of maintaining that school to keep it open - in your opinion, now strictly your opinion, what would be the ideal percentage that needs to be raised? Would it be 20 per cent or 50 per cent of the cost of the expense to keep that school open?
MR. FOWLER: I don’t know that I could give you a percentage that would make any sense. I’ll use River John as an example. If the roof hadn’t been poor and needed to be replaced, if the parking lot wasn’t in such deplorable condition, that model might have been a lot closer to being achievable.
It’s one thing to have operating expenses like paying the heat bill - they had some entrepreneurs who were prepared to help. But trying to meet this, I think it was $0.5 million in capital that they were going to have to come up with, that probably defeats the model unless you have an external funding source.
If you took a building that was in good shape and had some useful life before it was going to need major money - assuming that the school board was going to leave teachers and whatever and going to pay their share of the heat bill and the light bill - then you get a lot closer to that economic viability tipping point. So each circumstance would be different, but a major capital thing I think is - why would the department or a school board put a new roof on a building for a declining population unless they had some partners to help? I don’t know that a percentage works.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Mr. Orrell, do you have another question?
MR. ORRELL: Yes, I do, please. In speaking to that, you’ve raised an issue that to me has been close to the schools in my area with the review process. They did a review process and decided they were going to close 17, I think, but in my area alone there were about four or five schools. The biggest complaint I had from the staff was that, knowing that these schools were getting older and that this process was taking place, there was no money spent on those schools to keep them. The decision was basically made long before the review process of what schools were going to be closed, because of their age and that they didn’t put the money into them.
River John may be an example where if they had kept up that maintenance over the years before that - knowing that you had a declining population they probably didn’t put the effort into it to keep it that way, which would have had a major impact on the ability to do the hub school model. Is it looked at where, because it has been brought to my attention now, one school in my area where the Air Cadet Corps operated out of - they had an office there, they were able to use the gym on Wednesday nights. We have a boxing club that rents space from another area that they shouldn’t really be in because it’s not big enough. We have walk-in clinics that operate in the evenings, after 6:00 p.m. until 9:00 p.m. Why couldn’t we look at those - not even during the school hours being used, that building - to small amounts of rent, whatever it would be? It wouldn’t take away from people who are already renting because they’re not renting from these people, because of the space they need or the times they need it and for the six months a year that certain things operate.
I hope that’s being looked at, but it raises the question, with the review process, have there been areas where they have been neglected because it’s the plan to have that done anyway, so that wouldn’t work no matter what we did?
MR. FOWLER: Far be it from me to speak for school boards, but from a practical perspective, if you have areas of your school board that are growing or maintaining themselves and you have other areas where the writing is on the wall - it may be a long way off - and you have only so many dollars, you have to make decisions. Again, the weight of responsibility is on the school boards, and they depend on the capital grants and repair grants they get from the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development to do that. They have the task of allocating it.
We certainly heard that a number of times around the province, that there were concerns that the process really started a long time ago. But there’s also the fact that sometimes boards look at where they will recommend new schools, and whether it makes more sense to have a new school geographically approximate that catches three schools that used to exist that are long past their best before date. Those are all part of the decision-making process that boards go through. I commend them for what’s on their plate.
One could argue, and I said that if you run for a school board, to be concerned about educating our kids and then you spend a lot of your time talking about bricks and mortar, so it’s a challenge. But yes, the responsibility rests with the boards.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Thank you. Mr. Wilson.
MR. GORDON WILSON: Just to follow up on Mr. Orrell’s question, also interesting, I mean everybody knows the pressures that we have. I think it’s somewhere around $35 million in unused space within schools in this province. The moratorium on school reviews that the previous government put in place basically just pushed back the problem to successive governments to deal with and unfortunately we have to deal with those.
I want to touch briefly on River John. I can remember it in the press and I did a little bit of reading before this meeting, trying to get an understanding and listening to some of the questions. I’m just curious because we have a lot of things going on in our communities around projects, and business models keep coming up on whatever we do - sustainability and you used the words, proof of concept, I like that. Do you feel there was ever a business model for River John?
MR. FOWLER: A tough one for me to answer. The capital that building required, there was not an answer for. I wasn’t at the meeting when the board made their final decision. As I understand it, the vote was very close. I guess if I was to speculate, if that hadn’t been an obstacle, I think we might have had one to try proof of concept.
MR. GORDON WILSON: So I take it that you are saying there was a business model, then?
MR. FOWLER: I think there was a model that was worth proof of concept. Whether it could have sustained itself was going to depend on whether the River John community, in partnership with an education program, could bring other players to the table in a sustaining way to make that viable. It would have taken a lot of interesting discussions but I think it might have got closer to the college try, if I might, if somebody had waved a magic wand and said the capital is not an issue.
MR. GORDON WILSON: Truly, in this world business models can’t be, woulda, coulda, shouldas.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Mr. Horne - it is Mr. Horne’s turn now. I’m back to the list.
MR. HORNE: I’d just like to go a little bit into the history of maybe a misconception by communities in what you believe in, that the hub schools program was devised by the fact they may be going out of the schools and the school may be closed. Was that hub system developed specifically for schools that may have lost their length of time in those communities because of lack of students?
MR. FOWLER: I’m not sure I have the history to go back but certainly if you were to talk to the people from the Small Schools Initiative, they were looking at creative ways to sustain small, rural schools particularly. There’s still a hub school argument in urban centres, too, but I think they were more focused on the rural.
I think the concept has been around for a long period of time. It might have been called something different. There was a day when we called those things multi-service, back in the 1970s, there’s all kinds of different names you can put on things.
No, I don’t think it was born out of, my school is going to close, I think it was born out of realities in rural Nova Scotia and we’ve got fewer kids and the writing may be on the wall if we aren’t proactive.
I think if you look at what’s happening in Louisbourg, if you look at what happened in River John - there may be others, too - they went beyond oh gosh, our school is going to close, to oh gosh, what can we do to change and sustain and grow our community and we’d love to have the school retained.
If you look at our discussion paper we wrote for the consultation, we talked about the banks closing, the corner grocery store closing. I know from talking to people in River John, I’d say to them whenever I met them, where do you work? Oh, I work in New Glasgow, I work in Pictou, I work in Truro. It’s a mobile society and a lot of the parents who made decisions even the year before River John closed was because they had just dropped their kids off at school - they weren’t even on a school bus - because their 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. life was in a bigger community. But the thing they cared about was where they lived and they wanted to sustain the school.
MR. HORNE: I guess just to follow up, you’re probably saying the same thing. Would it be possible that any community, either rural or in the cities, that may have any initial thoughts of closing a school in five years, 10 years, that a committee should be struck maybe of the community to try to look at all the alternatives that might be available, before it gets to the point where it’s going to be closed?
MR. FOWLER: That’s an excellent way to put it and that’s exactly what the committee hoped would happen with the long-range planning exercise and the family of schools review. Often one of the criticisms was that “my school got singled out” and there was very little context for the community members as to what consideration the board did. With long-range planning it really is as much as five and 10 years out and is updated regularly. By the way, it does include - and I might ask my colleague in the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development - we recommended that there be an annual summary sheet prepared on each school as to its condition, which would be available to the public. Historically it was closed-vest information until you were into a review.
The idea was that community members would see what is happening, even if their school was only discussed in the family of schools review in that long-range planning. If there was a mobilization effort they would have the information and be at it a lot sooner, which would ideally again get your proof of concept idea out a lot earlier. But that’s sort of like a four and five-year out process.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Mr. Stroink.
MR. STROINK: I guess, you know, listening to all the questions and stuff like that, where does government fit into this? I think government’s role is building a foundation of success for communities. What that looks like I think is from simple things like red tape reduction to creating new health care strategies to investing more money into education. Those are just a few examples of that to ensure that communities have a platform of success.
This isn’t a rural issue - it’s just as much of an urban issue in Halifax. There’s a school review going on right now in my community where there’s discussion of school closures. So to pit this as a rural issue, it’s not at all. I guess that’s one of the things I do want to stress also - government’s commitment to promising development of schools or anything like that. I take LeMarchant St. Thomas as an example - that was promised 13 years ago for a new school. I mean that school is over its capacity, and we’re very lucky that as a school that is continuing to grow.
The issue is that a lot of that stuff is promises without actually following through. I guess that’s where the frustrating thing is. When you see this LeMarchant St. Thomas taking 13 years to create a new school, it’s very hard for communities to create a hub model or create a discussion format of how we save our school if there are unknowns and promises that are sitting there from government.
I guess my kind of long-winded commitment is, I guess where we say it’s communities that need to start thinking beyond what the school need is to our community or what does this school mean to that community or this community or around the surrounding areas and how we sustain that school.
I guess I’d like from you, from going around, is it worth discussions for communities to say hey, we think our school might be closing or should close as you recommended, and it’s hard, but how do we make the other communities work together so that we’re not pitting each other against each other, based on electoral promises, based on community promises? It’s a tough question and I understand that.
MR. FOWLER: I’ll go back to the community of schools, the family of schools. Part of the thinking - and again, we heard this from the floor at our meetings - is that often they felt it was me against you, one community against the others. I think with the family of school reviews, again as part of the long-range planning process, the concept or the idea was that people would look at that and say yes, the reality is there aren’t enough kids to support two schools but maybe we can come up with a better model that may involve a new school or a renovated school because we’re not against each other, we’re in fact trying to work together, because there are realities, right?
MR. STROINK: I appreciate that comment. I guess what I’m trying to get at here is I believe that some of this is government, some of this is school boards, but I full-heartedly believe that communities need to get together and work on that to create a place of success for learning.
MR. FOWLER: As an individual citizen who long held that if you don’t have grassroots community leadership, it makes no difference how strong your politician is at any level. If you don’t have that synergy at the community level, most things don’t succeed.
With our history and community economic development in this province, when you look at the communities that have come together and been able to sustain themselves against pretty significant odds, it’s the ones where there is passionate, committed, intelligent community leadership.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Thank you. Ms. Zann.
MS. ZANN: Actually on that note, I have to agree that it’s the grassroots that make anything successful because you could introduce anything and if the grassroots community doesn’t like it, they’re not going to support it and they’re not going to buy things there or they’re not going to help improve it and put the time and effort into making something work.
That said, again I have to say River John had all those things. They had a passionate community that was wanting to make their community one where more people would come and live, where people were going to want to bring families and they could grow. Traditionally they said they used to be considered the armpit of Pictou County - that’s what they told me. They were coming up with slogans like Pictou Strong and River John Strong. They were so proud of everything they had done and proud of their children. They said it just felt like no matter what they did, the school board had decided already to close their school and there was nothing they could do.
I noticed that as Chair of the committee on this school review process, Mr. Fowler had written, “The education system needs to be open to innovation. There may be opportunities ahead to enhance community vitality, share operating costs, and possibly allow private-sector or not-for-profit uses of space in some schools with excess capacity.”
But then also the School Review Process Discussion Paper from 2013 says that: “Although some school boards expressed an interest in having communities explore this option, there have been no examples to date where this model has succeeded . . . The cases where this has worked in the past have resulted from proactive planning in response to an opportunity . . .”
Part of my point and my question is, how can we find out if something actually works unless they are given the opportunity to try it? In this case of River John, as you mentioned earlier, they really never were given the opportunity to give it a try. I noticed from meetings that I attended last summer there were community people saying, we have people in the community who can fix the roof for less than $500,000, which is what the school board was saying it was going to cost.
How do we get this hub idea to succeed if we don’t try it out?
MR. FOWLER: I stand by the words that were written. I do believe that with innovative solutions, we can make a hub work.
The unfortunate part for River John, Wentworth and Maitland - and again this is a personal comment - was they were caught between the old and the new. They were half in the moratorium and half out of it. The new school review process the department implemented based on our recommendations wasn’t in play when that decision was taken, so they didn’t get the benefit of the new process but they got a little bit of the concept of it, so they were caught in between.
Again, I stand to be corrected but I think financially the mountain was just too high, and the board didn’t see a way for them to solve that. Again I stress, a board focused on education to solve a problem.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Ms. Zann, do you have another question?
MS. ZANN: Yes. I would agree with you. I know I went to a school board meeting at that time and they were complaining that in spite of being promised that there would be increases in funding, they still had a shortfall. So they were still receiving a shortfall which was one of the reasons why they were saying they were going to need to close these small schools.
Again, yes, the school boards do make the decision but yes, the funding comes from government and yes, then it’s up to government whether they’re going to fund enough. Do they have a vision to keep small schools open? I mean that’s part of the question. Some governments don’t necessarily believe in small schools. They want to close small schools and create a larger, bigger school and bus kids for over an hour to a larger school.
Some people believe in the small school model and the Small Schools Initiative. I have to say personally I do believe in that Small Schools Initiative. I think it’s healthier for the kids, I think it’s nice when the principal knows the name of every kid in the school. In larger schools it’s harder. Seeing those poor little kids in River John being stuck on buses and going for over an hour or more to another school, it’s tough for the community. Thank you.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: No question?
MS. ZANN: No, that’s it.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Oh, I asked you if you had a question. Okay - Mr. Wilson.
MR. GORDON WILSON: First I’d just like to clarify that there are no children in our province who are being bused for over an hour.
Just to the point of - and I think it was answered - the understanding of the definition of a hub school and the misconception around that. I think Mr. Horne and Mr. Stroink touched on it, but I wasn’t clear if you had answered it. Is there a misconception in communities on when you can work towards a hub school, do you think, and what the definition of a hub school is?
MR. FOWLER: I don’t know that I have enough information to answer that. I would argue that if they look at the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development’s school review policy, it certainly would give them a road map to say, my board is in a long-range planning exercise, or hasn’t done one and probably will be required by the department to do one, so we should get on the horse now.
I think there is a road map there for people, if they are so inclined, but somebody has to tip you off that there’s something coming. That’s why the public process of the long-range planning exercise that the department has mandated, I think, is very helpful to people who have a longer-term view of their community.
MR. GORDON WILSON: I just wanted to touch on something; it isn’t really a question here either. I know we’ve been talking an awful lot about infrastructure - school closures and that. Just on a personal note, I am quite proud of what we’ve done on the other side of schools and education. I think it’s important to note that the schools are more than a piece of infrastructure. Our program review, our class caps, our additions of teachers - I think we’re up to $58 million, we’re going to the $65 million reintroduced back into the schools.
It’s important to understand that because sometimes with closures that’s the negative side. I think there’s a real, true excess in the balance of what is going on in the school system right now in that world, which is extremely positive.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: No question? (Laughter)
MR. GORDON WILSON: Just a statement. Would you agree with that statement, Mr. Fowler? That’s my question. (Interruption) That was a question.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Okay, that takes me to the end of my speakers list. Mr. Fowler, if you would like to have some closing remarks we can have some time for that.
MR. FOWLER: I didn’t prepare anything but based on the questioning, I think I do believe yes, I was a paid consultant to do the work but I’m proud of the work the committee did in terms of the new school review process. I’m told that a couple of other jurisdictions are taking a hard look at the school review process that we put in place. Hub schools are but one part of that.
I do believe that with the right circumstances and the right partnerships, there is the opportunity to at least try a hub school somewhere but it requires strong community leadership, a school board that believes it’s in the best interests of the kids to keep them in a school program, under whatever rubric, and other partners that come to the table.
It’s not an easy task but I also don’t believe it’s impossible, and I thank the Chair and the committee members for their questions.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much. We’re going to take a short break, maybe three minutes, and we have some committee business to finish up with. Thank you.
[11:02 a.m. The committee recessed.]
[11:05 a.m. The committee reconvened.]
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Order, please. We have a flag-raising that I know we all want to get to so we’ll get our business done. Thank you.
First we’re going to talk about our correspondence. Do we have any discussion on that - are we good with our correspondence? I’m not seeing any hands so I guess we’re good with that.
Now we’ll go to agencies, boards and commissions. I have a motion - Mr. Stroink.
MR. STROINK: There’s a lot of people on the list so I would like to put a motion forward to accept all departments and all names on the list for ABCs, in one motion.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Do we have a seconder on that motion? Oh, we don’t need a seconder on that motion. Mr. Orrell.
MR. ORRELL: Can I ask just one question before we do that. The Provincial Health Authority Board, with all that has gone on over the last little while with doctor shortages and community clinics and so on and so forth, would it be possible to see the applications that went in there, to see what the people’s backgrounds were? If they had a background in health care or if it was a background in business it would help with some of the operating models. Being a Provincial Health Authority Board member and voting director, it would be very beneficial to know some of the background of some of the people who were approved and not approved, so we could . . .
MADAM CHAIRMAN: That was sent out in the package for us all to read.
MR. ORRELL: Okay, I didn’t get it so I apologize if that’s the case.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Well, have them check your emails and make sure you’re getting your correspondence.
Is there any other discussion on doing this all in one motion? We must read every department and every name if we’re going to be doing this all in one motion, so is there a concern with doing it this way?
Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
[The motion is carried.]
Who would like to do the reading? Mr. Stroink.
MR. STROINK: Madam Chairman, under the Department of Agriculture, I move that Rick Hoeg be approved as a member and Angela Hughes as a member and secretary of the Weed Control Advisory Committee.
Under the Department of Business, I move that Jeff Forbes, Gordon Gillis, and Mary Lee be approved as directors of the Trade Centre Limited Board of Directors.
Under the Department of Communities, Culture and Heritage, I move that Erin MacPherson be approved as a member of the Colchester/East Hants Regional Library Board, and that Sylvia Hamilton be approved as a member of the Public Archives Board of Trustees.
Under the Department of Community Services, I move that Brian Tapper be approved as chairman and a member, and that William (Bill) Crawford, David MacLeod, Amy L. Parsons, Marcellina (Marcie) Shwery-Stanley, and H. Jane Warren be approved as members of the Nova Scotia Disabled Persons Commission.
Under the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, I move that Judy Elliot and Ross Lloyd be approved as members of the Board of Directors of the Atlantic Provinces Special Education Authority.
Under the Department of Finance and Treasury Board, I move that Jim Kavanaugh and William Legge be approved as board members of the Nova Scotia Credit Union Deposit Insurance Corporation.
Under the Department of Health and Wellness, I move that Barbara Clow, Mary Hart-Baker, and Cheryl A. Morris be approved as members of the Nova Scotia Advisory Committee on AIDS; that Greg Fevens, Susan Nasser, Betty P. Thomas, and Aaron Windsor be approved as members of the College of Licensed Practical Nurses of Nova Scotia; that Aaron Windsor be approved as a member of the Board of the College of Occupational Therapists of Nova Scotia; and that Colin L. Copp, Dianne E. Hamilton, Wayne MacDonald, John MacL. Rogers, and Douglas B. Shatford be approved as voting directors of the Provincial Health Authority Board.
Under the Department of Labour and Advanced Education, I move that Carol MacCulloch be approved as Employee Representative Member from the Service Sector and Designate as Chair, that Brad Smith be approved as Employee Representative Member from the Construction Sector and Designate as Vice-Chair, that Heather Cruickshanks be approved as Employer Representative Member from the Construction Sector, and that Gordon MacLean be approved as member-at-large, that Doreen Parsons be approved as member-at-large and that Trevor Weldon be approved as Employer Representative Member from the Industrial Sector, of the Nova Scotia Apprenticeship Agency.
Under Service Nova Scotia, I move that Lisa Smith be appointed as a board member to the Board of Registration of Embalmers and Funeral Directors. I move that Angus Bonnyman, Arnold Fralick and Richard E. Morris be appointed as board members to the Public Accountants Board.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Is there any discussion? Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
The motion is carried.
MS. MACFARLANE: With regard to my colleague earlier asking about applicants who are being considered to the agencies, boards and commissions, I just want to confirm that we get the package, which I did review, we get the names of those who are being brought forward to hear, but what about the names that are not considered? That’s what our question was, we want to see the applicants who were not approved. We’d like to know who was not approved to the process.
The package we get and we read, we know who we are going to be approving, but what about those who were not approved to that point? Are we allowed to review those as well?
MADAM CHAIRMAN: I have been advised that the duty of this committee is to only look at the names that have come forward. I can have counsel speak to that right now.
MR. GORDON HEBB: The role of the committee is only to say yes or no to the ones that are put forward; it’s not to substitute the committee’s recommendation for somebody else. So arguably the other applicants are not relevant, but merely to decide whether the name put forward is an appropriate one - to approve it or not approve it, but not to make some other recommendation.
MS. MACFARLANE: Just to clarify, when they come forward under each department, who actually decides who is approved to come to this committee?
MR. HEBB: The names put forward have been put forward by whoever is recommending them, which could be a minister in the case, whether it is appointments by ministers or Cabinet, it is coming forward from the Executive Council Office and that appointment is made subject to approval by this committee.
MS. MACFARLANE: Thank you.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Okay, so the last thing on our agenda is to confirm the meeting on July 26th. It’s a Tuesday, from 10:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. Where it’s a summer meeting, it’s just for approval of the agencies, boards and commissions.
With that, I adjourn the meeting and you can all get to the flag raising.
[The committee adjourned at 11:15 a.m.]