Monday, March 19, 2007

Update: The taxpayer's left hand slaps its right hand?

There was a short news article on Page A3 of the Herald (19 March, 2007):

"City council has decided to use the time between now and the school district's June 1 deadline for a decision on the Penticton Secondary School auditorium to conduct a facilities inventory [...] In a prepared statement, Mayor Jake Kimberley said the city would look into the cost of taking over the auditorium. He added that the city had heard 'loud and clear' there are differing priorities, which include not only a performing arts centre but expanding the swimming pool."

I found the omission of the gym in this story odd, since the city had said it was considering both buildings. The story in Western provides some additional information, including a telling quote from the school board chair:

"Okanagan-Skaha school board trustees this week gave the city until June 1 to decide whether it wants to submit a proposal to run the Pen High auditorium as a stand-alone facility. The original deadline was March 31.

The city also expressed interested in taking over the north gym, but that option is now off the table, said Larry Little, chairman.

While the auditorium has overshadowed the north gym, its fate has generated considerable attention in recent weeks, with several citizens calling for its preservation.

'It (the north gym) is still our property and it is still our decision,' he said, noting that the new Pen High school now under construction will include more recreational space."

My editorial comments:

I think it is important to address Mr. Little's misapprehension head on: It is clearly not his gym. Nor is it the school district's gym or the Ministry of Education's gym. It is our gym. We, as taxpayers, employ various people to look after our gym, but this does not mean these employees have ultimate authority. It is like the driver of a city bus saying, 'This is my bus'. Yes we delegate enormous responsibility and decision autonomy to the drivers of our buses. But we do not grant them the power to veto all decisions made regarding the use and disposition of "their" buses. Nor should the school board grant itself a veto and presume to know that taxpayers would prefer, say, a parking lot to a community gymnasium.

The SOAP proposal essentially involves transfer of our gym from the administrative oversight of one body of elected officials (the school board) to the administrative oversight of a different body of elected officials (city council). Contrary to Mr. Little's assertion, no real change of ownership is involved. I think the school board should keep this in mind.

Of course, we recognize that the school board has a mandate to ensure the new school works. Fair enough. However, this does not mean that the school board should act contrary to the interests of the community in seeking to fulfill its mandate. The new Pen-Hi, after all, is part of the community. As Mayor Kimberley points out, we have finite resources. We cannot afford to have the left hand of the taxpayer working to spite its right hand.

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