Trustees have power to close unlisted schools when they vote March 23

Nelson Zandbergen
Nation Valley News

EASTERN ONTARIO — Whatever the upshot of recommendations in the final ‘Building for the Future’ report being released by the Upper Canada District School Board tomorrow (Feb. 13), provincial policy would not prevent trustees from charting an entirely different course when a final scheduled vote on school closures takes place later next month.

This potentially includes shutting schools never contemplated for closure during the recently concluded accommodation review consultations — though two trustees who spoke with Nation Valley News suggested they could never support closing a school not on the list recommended by staff, should the idea be brought to the table as a motion at the deciding March 23 meeting.

And while an unlikely development, Trustee Bill MacPherson of Smiths Falls conceded it’s not completely outside the bounds of possibility because, in the final analysis, trustees do have the power to make a last-minute change of that nature.

“It’s a scenario I don’t see happening,” said MacPherson, adding, “But yes, there is a possibility of it happening because you’re dealing with human beings at a board table with power.”

The trustee took a dim view of any such maneuver, saying he would be “very hesitant to support a motion to close a school that was not at least mentioned as a potential candidate for closure, in a scenario based upon the Building for the Future report.”

“To close a school without having done at least some discussion on it during the ARC (accommodation review committee) process, or at least a professional opinion … I would more likely be one to view it as a ‘Hail Mary’ motion, in other words, a desperate throw down the field to change something.”

MacPherson said that approximately 10 Ontario school boards have opted to close schools that weren’t initially recommended for closure during a related ARC process.

Dundas County trustee Jeremy Armer (left) opposed rescinding the Upper Canada District School Board’s closure plan, Oct. 12.

Last year, Ontario’s Ministry of Education declined an appeal by supporters of a high school closed under those circumstances by the Bluewater District School Board.

“Locally elected school board trustees have the responsibility and authority to make the final decision about pupil accommodation reviews. The final decision made by trustees may be different from the options presented or recommended by board staff in the initial staff report,” ministry spokesperson Heather Irwin told Nation Valley News in an email this month.

When asked if trustees were also free to decide differently from final recommendations (such as those being released Feb. 13 by the Upper Canada District School Board), Irwin replied, “Yes – the final decision around potential school closures rests with the school board trustees to best support student achievement and well-being.”

Dundas County Trustee Jeremy Armer said he would not entertain a motion proposing to close any school never proposed for closure during the ARC process. “It’s not fair,” Armer said of the idea.

Fair or not, a school not at presumed risk of closure came in for some mathematical scrutiny during the final ARC meeting at Seaway District High School, Jan. 31.

Citing board statistics, Grade 12 student Quinn Horne noted the current occupancy rate of 42 percent at North Dundas District High School — the same as Seaway.  She argued that closing larger NDDHS instead of Seaway, and sending all NDDHS students to the Iroquois-based high school, would leave the board with a single Dundas County high school at 91 percent capacity. Doing the reverse would fill NDDHS substantially less, to 79 percent capacity, as the sole high school in the county.

Grade 12 Seaway student Quinn Horne makes the case for keeping Dundas County high schoolers in Dundas County — at a 91 percent full Seaway District High School.

Seaway is among 29 schools suggested for closure by the UCDSB, with its student population proposed to be split between NDDHS and Prescott’s South Grenville District High School.

Trustee MacPherson has since revealed to Nation Valley News that tomorrow’s final report recommends closing fewer schools than the original 29. The region was shocked when the board first proposed the sweeping list of closures last September.

The board is holding a public meeting on the new report Feb. 15 in Kemptville. Trustees are then slated to be lobbied directly by school delegations at their March 2 board meeting.

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