By RICK CONRAD Education Reporter

It’s not an overwhelming victory for openness in public institutions but Charles Cirtwill will take it nonetheless.

The acting president of the Atlantic Institute of Market Studies said Tuesday that a deal to get less than half the information it originally requested from the Halifax regional school board was disappointing but the best the conservative think-tank could expect to get.

“This really is a disservice to the folks in the Halifax area served by” the school board, Mr. Cirtwill said Tuesday in an interview.

“It’s frustrating that it took this long and this much expenditure of time and resources by the institute.”

The institute has been fighting for six years through freedom of information laws for data.
The information it is seeking includes: the average provincial exam and class marks by school, overall averages, the percentage of students with marks of 80 per cent or higher, attendance records, discipline stats, average Grade 9 marks for math and language arts by school and postal codes of students.

The institute wanted the data to compile its annual school rankings report, due in March.
The Cape Breton-Victoria, South Shore, Chignecto-Central and Strait regional school boards as well as the Conseil scolaire acadien provincial have already handed over the information or agreed to do so, Mr. Cirtwill said.
Other provinces release similar data for free.

Tuesday’s compromise gets the institute the provincial exam grades, the corresponding teacher-assigned grades by course and high school attendance rates, but at a much reduced fee.

The board had said it would cost $24,000. It will provide less information for $1,015, Mr. Cirtwill said. Both sides were set to battle it out in court on Nov. 29.

“They really live in their own little world over there and don’t think they should be held to the standard that other boards or other provinces have been able to (follow),” he said. “And I just think that’s totally crazy.”

The Halifax board has said much of the information doesn’t exist centrally in the format that the institute wanted and would have taken too much time and money to compile.

“(The agreement) recognizes the public’s right to information. We recognize that. We recognize the need to be transparent with that information, but we also have to protect the public purse here,” spokeswoman Shaune MacKinlay said. “We can’t satisfy every request and create data going back five years.”

Ms. MacKinlay said the board is upfront with parents and the public with its own assessments. This year it’s testing grades 2, 4 and 9 students in literacy and grades 3, 5 and 9 students in math.

“We hope that when people think about this board, they think not only about what AIMS has to say about this board, but (also) the way this board communicates with parents (and) the way this board is transparent about the numerous types of assessments it’s doing.”