The Upper Canada District School Board held a special meeting at North Grenville District High School last Wednesday evening where UCDSB staff presented their final report for the Building for the Future Accommodation Review to the Board of Trustees.
The final report saw the number of schools slated for closure drop from 29 to twelve, with eight recommended to be closed as of September, 2017 or 2018, and four school sites to be closed conditional upon ministry approval for facility upgrades or rebuild at the receiving schools.
Both Wolford Public School and Oxford-on-Rideau Public School are on the list slated for closure as of September, 2018. In the case of Oxford-On-Rideau, it is subject to making space available for the students at South Branch Elementary School in Kemptville. Currently, some of the classrooms at South Branch are being used by the high school, which is bursting at the seams.
During the question period, Trustee John McAllister brought up the fact that North Grenville is a fast-growing community and expressed his concern that Oxford-On-Rideau may be needed to accommodate that growth in the future. This comment was met with applause from the audience, which was quickly silenced by the Chair of the meeting, Jeff McMillan. Superintendent David Coombs addressed this question, saying that staff did take this into consideration when making their recommendations. The condition was put on the closure of Oxford-On-Rideau so that some clarification can be made with the enrolment at South Branch and the new Kemptville Public School, especially with the recommended addition of dual track (French and English) programming at the schools.
Students from Wolford Public School would be accommodated, as of September, 2018, at either Merrickville Public School or Duncan J. Schoular Public School in Smiths Falls. The ARC member for Wolford Public School says that parents feel the recommendation for Wolford has gone from bad to worse. “Duncan J. has a bad reputation,” he says. “As it stands right now, if the board of trustees accepts the recommendation to close Wolford and send them to Duncan J, a large portion of our parents have said that they will leave the UCDSB and send their children to the Catholic board.”
The staff report indicates that, with the recommended closures, consolidations, additions and rebuilds, they will be reducing surplus pupil space by 2,358, just over a quarter of the 9,846 empty spaces they estimate they have within the board. With so many empty spaces still remaining, Trustee Wendy McPherson asked the unpopular question: whether this report recommends enough consolidation for the Board to be sustainable for the next 10-15 years, as hoped. “Are we reducing our school spaces adequately to ensure funding?” she asked.
Director of Education Stephen Sliwa admitted that this review took them only part way to reducing the empty spaces identified. He also admitted in the meeting that they heard a lot through the ARC process about potential ways to keep as many schools open as possible, through partnering with communities, local business and other educational institutions, but there wasn’t enough time in the review process to adequately look into the suggestions.
This begs the question: why the rush? If the Board didn’t have time to do its due diligence with all the information that was offered to them through the ARC process, why initiate it at all?
With all the recommended school closures and consolidations, staff estimate a total loss of $62,641. While negative, the report states that staff consider this to be “essentially a break-even financial position, given the uncertainty and assumptions informing the estimates.” There are a lot of variables at play, Superintendent of Business Nancy McCaslin-Barkley says. “With a $350 million budget, the impact is not great.”
It is now up to the Trustees (who have been forced to the sidelines in this process until now) to take the information they received on Wednesday and make the final decision. Leeds-Grenville MPP Steve Clark is not happy with the final report and is asking the Trustees to reject it and demand the Wynne government to suspend school closures in Ontario.
There will be an opportunity for the Board to hear delegations at a special meeting at North Grenville District High School on March 2, 2017. There may also be a meeting on March 1, 2017 at the same time and place depending on the number of applications for delegations they receive. “We don’t take this lightly,” Jeff McMillan said at the end of the meeting. “It’s probably the most challenging thing a board of trustees can do.” The Trustees will continue to deliberate after hearing the delegations and will reach a final decision on March 23, 2017.


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