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Oxford-on-Rideau Public School and Wolford Public School are both listed for possible closure at the end of the school year, according to a report issued by the Upper Canada District School Board. The Board [UCDSB] has approved the start of a public review to determine the best ways to consolidate school space and increase the provincial funding for building improvements that enhance student learning.

Board Trustees approved a report on September 28 that will launch the Building for the Future Pupil Accommodation Review (PAR) within the UCDSB. The report details draft recommendations for potential school closures to consolidate space in the district that would also position the board to proceed with development of a Capital Priorities Plan. The report also outlines a public consultation process that will keep communities informed.

“Tonight’s meeting was not about the Board closing any schools,” stated Board Chair Jeff McMillan. “Instead, it’s about the Board opening a conversation with our parents and school communities.” He emphasized that, through the discussion at the Board table, the only approval that was granted this evening was to commence a feedback and information-gathering process with parents through the use of Accommodation Review Committees (ARCs).

The review is necessary because of the realities of declining enrolment and surplus space in Board schools. With changing demographics and shifting population trends in the rural region, schools built to accommodate a larger number of students now have empty space. Over the past 10 years, UCDSB enrolment has been reduced by 3,500 elementary students and 4,000 secondary students. Recent changes to the Ministry of Education funding model have further reduced the likelihood of school boards receiving financial support to renovate or rebuild schools unless surplus space is reduced.

Currently, the board is faced with nearly 10,000 unused student spaces across the Board’s district – the equivalent to 33 empty elementary schools. The board now has to pay heating, lighting and other maintenance costs on that space. Consolidation will improve the board’s ability to present business cases to the Ministry so to upgrade the aging inventory of schools – or even build new ones – across the district.

“This is about building for the future while recognizing there are new realities for school boards when it comes to provincial funding, and the number of school-aged children compared to the past,” emphasized Chair McMillan. “We need to renew our system, given these realities, while not losing sight of creating the best possible learning opportunities for all students.”

With the Board approving a public consultation through four regional ARCs, as well as providing opportunity for parents and other members of the public to offer feedback through a specially commissioned website, the Board of Trustees is looking forward to collecting feedback and input on the draft initial staff reports.

The ARCs will host two public meetings each, with the first set in November, 2016 and the second in January, 2017. Further details regarding the regional ARCs will be finalized and shared with parents and communities by no later than Friday, October 7.

The scope of the Review will consider as many as 16 schools for closure by the end of the 2016-2017 school year, with an additional 13 schools being considered for closure beyond that.

Overall the report classifies potential closures into three categories:

Category 1: School closures involving the transfer of students to existing schools with space (Schools to close by June 30, 2017). These include Oxford-on-Rideau Public School and Wolford Public School.

Category 2: School closures involving the transfer of students to existing schools that will need temporary space adjustments such as portables (schools to close by June 30, 2017).

Category 3: School closures conditional on Ministry approval for facility upgrades or rebuilds (date for closure to be determined). Four additional schools could fall into either category 2 or 3 depending on a confirmation of temporary portable needs.

The Board’s decision to authorize a Pupil Accommodation Review process follows earlier public discussions at the Board table from May 2016 to June 2016, regarding Long Term Accommodation Projections and Program Review reports from staff. A final Board decision about school closures is expected for March 23, 2017.

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