BROCKVILLE — Grappling with excess capacity said to be equal to 33 empty elementary schools, the Upper Canada District School Board (UCDSB) has approved the start of a public review to determine the best ways to consolidate space and increase provincial funding for capital building improvements.
The Board acknowledges the review may lead to the closure of as many as 16 schools at the end of the current school year, with an additional 13 schools being considered for the chopping block afterward —as per the staff report that made headlines earlier this week.
Trustees OK’d that report on Wednesday night, Sept. 28, launching the Building for the Future Pupil Accommodation Review (PAR). To gather public feedback, the UCDSB is setting up a special website and planning public meetings later this fall.
The UCDSB intends to make its final decision on the stunning slate of proposed school closures on March 23.
Overall, the now-approved 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 Benson Public School, Char-Lan District High School,Glen Tay Public School, Long Sault Public School, North Elmsley Public School, Oxford-on-Rideau Public School, Pakenham Public School, Plantagenet Public School, Rideau Centennial Elementary School, Rothwell-Osnabruck School, Seaway District High School, andWolford 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). These include: Iroquois Public School, Morrisburg Public School, S. J McLeod Public School, and Williamstown Public School.
· Category 3: School closures conditional on Ministry approval for facility upgrades or rebuilds (date for closure to be determined). Schools falling into this category are: Caldwell Street Public School,Glengarry District High School, Maynard Public School, South Edwardsburg Public School, St. Lawrence Secondary School, Cornwall Collegiate and Vocational School, Sweet’s Corners Elementary School,Maxville Public School, and North Stormont Public School.
Four additional schools could fall into either category 2 or 3 depending on a confirmation of temporary portable needs. Schools falling into these categories are: Maple Grove Public School, Pineview Public School, Prince of Wales Public School and Toniata Public School.
Release of the report draft stunned the region earlier this week, in the lead-up to the Board meeting.
But an UCDSB press release following the meeting notes the “decision to authorize a Pupil Accommodation Review process follows earlier public discussions at the Board table, from May to June of this year, regarding Long Term Accommodation Projections and Program Review reports from staff.”
“Tonight’s meeting was not about the Board closing any schools,” stated Board Chair Jeff McMillan in the release. “Instead, it’s about the Board opening a conversation with our parents and school communities.”
McMillan emphasized that the only approval granted that evening was the start of a feedback and information-gathering process with parents through the use of Accommodation Review Committees (ARCs).
The review is necessary, according to the UCDSB, “because of the realities of declining enrolment and surplus space in our schools. With changing demographics and shifting population trends in our 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.”
The Board says it currently faces nearly 10,000 unused student spaces across its jurisdiction and must pay heating, lighting and other maintenance costs on that space, equivalent to 33 empty elementary schools. It claims that consolidation “will improve the board’s ability to present business cases to the Ministry 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 McMillan. “We need to renew our system, given these realities, while not losing sight of creating the best possible learning opportunities for all students.”
Four regional ARCs will host two public meetings each, with the first set in November 2016 and the second in January 2017. Further details on these activities will be finalized and made public no later than Friday, Oct. 7.