How To Save The Sauble School Without Costing The Municipal Taxpayers a Dime (Craig Gammie 4-18)

Item 8.13 (ADM report 37-2014) on the June 17, 2014 TSBP council agenda is about the Sauble school.

The last time the school came on the agenda I was concerned that council had made a decision based on a lot of false information that had been set before them.

I wrote a commentary about that false information. I supplied correct facts and suggested that council consider the facts and not the false information in the course of making its decision.

Contrary to a false, malicious rumour started by my political opponents, I have never proposed shutting the school down, and I have never proposed anything that would have the effect of shutting the school down.

For the record, I am a strong supporter of our education system, and if the school were really in jeopardy, I would do whatever it takes to save it (bar beggaring the residents).

The school is jointly owned by TSBP (17%) and the Bluewater District chool Board (83%). The 1995 operating agreement between TSBP and the Bluewater District School Board expires July 1, 2014. That is what has put the issue back on the agenda.

Given the false, vitriolic rumours about me that circulated last time, I must say I am tempted to say nothing this time around. But because the proposal now on the table is unnecessarily harmful to the kids, the parents, and the taxpayers, I am putting on my flak jacket and speaking up.

For the record: I want to see the school stay operating as a school.

Council decided in 2012 to pour taxpayers money into the school way beyond the town’s contractual obligations. It was based on false reasoning. We were already meeting our contractual obligations. TSBP has always met the terms of the contract and was never in breach.

Council claimed that an extra donation was necessary to save the school. It was not.

The proposal on the table is a five year agreement that gives much more of taxpayers’ money to the Bluewater District School Board than was donated by taxpayers in 2012, 2013 and 2014.

There is an alternative to the proposal on the table. There is a way to keep the school operating as a school for up to another 20 years, and all without any extra funding by taxpayers (other than standard education taxes). The school can be saved without making the already heavily burdened taxpayers even poorer.

Here’s how.

While the current contract expires on July 1, 2014, there are several renewal options built right into the current contract. Regarding renewal, the contract reads:

 11.0 TERM OF AGREEMENT

 This agreement shall be effective from the date of its execution by the parties hereto and it shall continue in force until July 1st in the year 2014. Either party hereto shall have the privilege of renewing this agreement for a further term of 20 years upon the same conditions as are contained herein subject to any modifications that may have occurred pursuant to this agreement.   Such renewal must be requested in writing within six (6) months of the expiry date of this agreement. Subsequent to any renewal period, this agreement shall continue thereafter from year to year until either party gives notice in writing to the other party that they wish to terminate the agreement on its next anniversary effective on July 1st in the following year.” (emphasis added by CG)

 Simply put, if TSBP wants to continue the contract as it is for another 20 years, all we have to do is say so. TSBP can decide unilaterally to continue the existing contract for another 20 years. The school board cannot veto such a decision.

This raises an extremely important opportunity.

Instead of beggaring the taxpayers in order to keep the school open for another 5 years, why not just renew the contract, keeping the school open for another 20 years, without any burden on the taxpayers.

How does renewing the contract for twenty years keep the school open?

In 2012 the school board looked at how much money it could save if it closed the school.

But in determining the savings, the school board assumed that they would actually close the school and apparently sell it, or at least sell their share. The board also assumed that this would have got rid of all of the school board’s share of costs. But this was a false assumption. The school board was contractually bound to keep paying its share of operating costs, and could not have walked away.

Similarly, if TSBP elects to renew the contract for another 20 years, the school board cannot just walk away or stop paying operating costs. If TSBP renews the contract for another 20 years then the school board is contractually obligated to pay the bulk (but not all) of the operating expenses, for 20 years, whether the school operates as a school or not.

But if the school board is obligated to pay those costs whether or not they operate the school, then any savings claimed from stopping operation as a school evaporate.   They are false savings.

So if the contract was renewed for another twenty years, forcing the school board to pay the bulk of operating costs for twenty years, then the option of discontinuing the schooling option would likely actually increase costs to the board, mostly due to costs of bussing the children to another school.

If the operating costs have to be paid for 20 years anyway, bussing kids elsewhere and schooling them elsewhere is going to be far more costly to the school board than continuing to school them at Sauble.

So if the contract is renewed for another twenty years, forcing the school board to pay the bulk of operating costs for twenty years, shutting down the schooling operation and bussing the kids elsewhere would make absolutely no sense, financially or otherwise. There is little chance that the school board, which is supposed to be responsible to the public, would do something so foolish.

Administrator Farrow-Lawrence’s recommended five year contract may appear to be a short term (five year) win for the parents and the kids.   But after that five years there is no more contract, and the school board can just walk away, and stop paying the bulk of the operating costs. Because at that point there would no longer be a contract requiring them to pay the bulk of operating costs. And that is exactly what they would do.   They would walk away.

In addition the Farrow-Lawrence proposal is a huge burden on TSBP taxpayers.

In stark contrast, the alternative, that is renewing the current contract for another 20 years, would keep the school operating for up to another 20 years, and so is a 20 year win for the kids, a 20 year win for the parents and a big win for TSBP taxpayers.

(But all taxpayers in Bluewater school district might see a slight increase in education taxes.)

Council should consider renewing the contract for twenty years instead of the costly Farrow-Lawrence 5 year proposal. Renewing the existing contract for twenty years just makes so much more sense.

And if the school board should turn out to be more foolish than I expected and try to hold us to ransom with another school closure threat, I will participate in any number of fundraising events to raise money to help pay the ransom (other than another tax grab from the TSBP residents). I will wash cars, spin crown-and-anchor wheels, run bingo nights, knock on doors asking for donations, whatever it takes. Because I place high value on a good solid education for the children.

But all bearing in mind that I place an equally high value on the taxpayers’ rights not to have to pay their education taxes twice, namely once as municipal taxes and again as education taxes.

And if we ever do get to the ransom paying stage, we must register a lien against the school board’s share of the school, for an amount exactly equal to any ransom that we pay.

It would mean a lot of bingo nights, but in about ten years we would own the whole school.

And all without costing the taxpayers another dime.

Your faithful servant to all residents,

Craig

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