The Truth About Why Closing PCVS Would Be A Huge Blow To Our Community

THE PHILLIPS REPORTOnce again the public, and private, discussions about the closing of a Peterborough high school have sunk into anecdote and vitriol. Virtually all of the discussion surrounds loyalties—neighbourhood, school, alumni—or mythical nostalgia. As the final decision by the publically elected Board at the Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board (KPRDSB) approaches, it is time to refocus the discussion on financial and economic realities.
Before addressing these issues, it is important consider the role of the Board and the role of its senior management. The Board is elected to see that the KPRDSB has the strategies, policies, facilities, finances, and administration are in place so that the organization—overseen by the senior managers it employs—can provide the best education possible given the resources. Importantly, the Board is responsible to its funders—property taxpayers (residential and business) in Peterborough and the taxpayers of Ontario. The Board’s senior administration must take these resources and deliver the required educational services. There is a clear distinction between the role of the publically elected Board and the role of the administrative staff it employs.
The Board now finds itself in a position where the facts show that there is declining enrolment in Peterborough high schools and more schools than are necessary to deliver its educational services. With very similar education services being delivered at the existing schools for several decades, it is difficult to argue that one fewer high school would put the Board in a position where it would be unable to fulfill its mandate.
In financial terms, declining high school enrolment and an abundance of property and facilities puts the Board in a position where it has the opportunity to consolidate its operations, sell some valuable property, and use the funds to deliver educational services, and, perhaps, provide taxpayers with some relief from ever-increasing educational property taxes.
After the contentious review process was completed, I was pleased to see that the Board added its offices to be part of the mix. With little commercial land available in the industrial parks in the City, the Board could sell its property (a value in the millions of dollars) in the industrial park and consolidate its operations in an existing high school. This is a creative response to a complex decision. However, after this creative financial option was offered by the Board, the pubic debate became increasingly entrenched in anything but the financial, economic, and administrative realities.
In economic terms, the issue centers on the future of PCVS. Beyond the issues of its property value (which is the lowest—according to Board’s own property evaluations—of all the properties being considered, and the least likely to lower education property taxes), the significance of the school in terms of its value to the community and its role in economic development were practically ignored. Many of the initiatives to renew and expand the infrastructures of the downtowns of Ontario communities are to increase, not decrease, the downtown’s population density. More importantly, a high school in the downtown represents a source of current and future creative talent.
Just over 100 kilometres from downtown Peterborough, at the University of Toronto, is an internationally recognized leader in economic development—Richard Florida. His research describes the significance of the "creative class" and its ability to interact at a social level in city cores as a key contributor to local economic growth. Even with him being an advisor on economic growth to the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, it seems as though his message is more readily heard further away, rather than closer to home.
There is little doubt that a downtown high school contributes in many ways to the economic development of a city. I have yet to come across any evidence, from Richard Florida’s point of view, or any other approach to economic development that would suggest that removing a downtown school would contribute to a community’s economic development in a positive way.
Basically, as much as there are compelling, anecdotal and nostalgic arguments to close PCVS, there is little substance—financial, economic, or administrative—to the arguments. This must be recognized as the Board’s takes its decision.
Earlier this year, I was given the opportunity to present this case in a ten minute presentation to the KPRDSB’s Accommodation Review Committee (ARC). After that presentation, I was given some feedback from a member of the committee that my presentation would have had more credibility if I had not been, "clearly," a PCVS alumnus and supporter.

On that point, I need to set the record straight. I did graduate from PCVS.  However, I disliked high school immensely. In hindsight, my five years of high school were insignificant given my subsequent academic pursuits. The fact that those five years were spent at PCVS has nothing to with the case I am making. My position comes from my community and professional perspective, not a nostalgic view.  I trust that the Board’s decision will be made in the same spirit.


[Contributed by PtboCanada's Tom Phillips Ph. D. Phillips is Economist & Sustainability Director - Greater Ptbo Innovation Cluster.]

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The Impact Of Peterborough's "Creative Class" On Local Economic Innovation & Growth

On the Gerti's patio. Photo by Evan HoltWith the arrival of spring, people shed their jackets and hats to once again take to the outdoors. In downtown Peterborough, the restaurant patios are busy, the streets are bustling, and "people watching" has returned as a seasonal pastime.

First impressions are that this is simply people enjoying the warmer weather and, perhaps, spending some of their hard earned income in anticipation of an active summer. The reality is that much more is going than meets the eye. The activities that we see are at the heart of the future of the local economy. It is from the interaction of people with diverse backgrounds, experiences and perspectives that economic innovation is begun.

Richard Florida of the Rotman School of Management, at the University of Toronto, and advisor on economic growth to the British Prime Minister, has attributed economic innovation and growth of cities to the role of the "creative class". Florida’s study of seven regions of 100,000 to 250,000 people in Ontario indicates that Peterborough is well positioned when compared to similar communities in terms of the creative class.

From rigorous measures used by Florida, Peterborough placed first in terms of its technological capacity—far ahead of Kingston and Guelph. In terms of the talent necessary to support growth, and cultural diversity and tolerance, Peterborough finished just behind Kingston and Guelph.

It is through venues where people gather together for social purposes rather than just employment that the creative class interacts. It is in places like downtown Peterborough, and the diversity of activities there that new ideas will come from interactions—planned and fortuitous.

Casual observations of the recent buzz downtown shows many young people working and gathering, and interacting with people of many ages and backgrounds. Art and music is thriving here in a way that is the envy of many other communities.

The attachment of young people to venues like those found in downtown Peterborough has positive economic consequences that are often overlooked by those who only see the activities as social, rather than economic.

The Municipal and Provincial governments are doing their part to develop the infrastructure—physical and social—necessary in supporting the activities of the creative class. Every local organization—private, public, and not-for-profit—needs to take into account the significance of supporting the creative class when making decisions that have community impacts beyond that of the organization itself.

Innovation, technologically and organizationally, is a reality even for small communities like Peterborough. It is time that we recognized the nature of economic growth in our time, practice innovation rather than just preaching it, and focus our efforts on promoting sustainable growth by nurturing the creative class.

[Contributed by PtboCanada's Tom Phillips Ph. D.]

[Editor's Note: This is Tom's first column for He is Economist & Sustainability Director - Greater Ptbo Innovation Cluster]

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