Meeting Notes - December 13, 2016

Tonight trustees unanimously supported administration’s recommendations to conduct accommodation (student space / infrastructure / programming) reviews in two families of schools including Forest Glade and Leamington elementary schools.

Recall that in the spring trustees unanimously rejected a recommendation from administration to conduct an accommodation review in the core area of Windsor which included the possibility of closing three schools: Queen Victoria, Prince Edward, and Hugh Beaton. In fact, no one put it on the floor for voting. Instead we requested a board-wide Long Term Accommodation Plan (LTAP). This was important because the recommendation to conduct a review in the core area of Windsor contained only the detailed numbers regarding facility condition (FCI – higher is worse), empty student spaces, and anticipated 5-year renewal costs for schools in that area. We needed to see how this compared to other areas in order to determine where the priorities lie.

It is clear that the plan did its job.

Among other things, the plan made it clear that the Forest Glade elementary schools have the highest renewal cost and number of empty spaces, as well as high FCI, whereas Leamington has a high number of empty spaces and is lacking local French Immersion programming.

Although my preference would be that we close no schools and work harder to fill them with community partners as much as we can, we have thousands of empty student spaces, aging infrastructure, and are projecting a deficit in 2016-17. I have said that the status quo is not sustainable and to deny it would be imprudent and irresponsible. So why vote to review schools in these areas? I cannot speak for other trustees, but these are my reasons.

For Leamington, the LTAP identified that this area does not have local French Immersion, but this is a very popular program for our board. Administration’s recommendation therefore includes the creation of FI in one school. It will be important to determine whether FI will be something the community wants and the impact it will have on our empty student spaces. I also understand that there are community members who have been asking about newer schools due to the condition of the ones we currently have. The fact that they do not have heritage value is important. However, we need to hear from residents directly and this process will allow for that. In addition, although some areas of Leamington have been identified in the United Way “Neighbourhoods” report as high risk for poverty of place, these schools all fall within a close radius and will potentially involve building a new school on at least one site of an existing school. It may be that a new school will make the neighbourhood more desirable and therefore contribute to home values and attract families to the area. Finally, the area trustee supported the recommendation and that is who knows their area best. For these reasons, I supported the recommendation.

With regard to Forest Glade, the LTAP showed us where the highest numbers of empty student spaces are, the highest renewal costs, and the highest FCI. The area that stood out was Forest Glade, not schools in the core. Logically, we can have the most impact on our budget by reviewing this area. Moreover, I understand that residents in this area may also welcome newer schools, but as I said before it’s crucial that we hear from the community directly. These schools do not have heritage value and the area was not identified as at risk in the United Way “Neighbourhoods” report. In addition, several of the schools in this area are open concept because that was the thinking in the 1960s and 1970s. This means that there are basically no walls separating classrooms. Teachers have found that this is distracting for students and we have had to provide makeshift barriers. This is an opportunity to improve these conditions. The main part of the accommodation review is to consider consolidating Parkview and Eastwood into one right-sized school. However, administration believes that this would also allow us the opportunity to put in a business case to consolidate the Forest Glade Public School and PLC buildings, which are one school, but in two different buildings next door to each other. A consolidated school could be built on the same sites. It may also be possible to build on the existing Eastwood or Parkview sites. Finally, the trustee from that the area who was able to vote supported the recommendation. For these reasons, I supported the recommendation.

I will continue to advocate for partnerships with community agencies that would not only reduce the empty student spaces in our schools, but bring services into a neighbourhood or community where they don’t already exist. In October we received notice from the Ministry that GECDSB would receive $856,000 to retrofit school space for community partners. We have to spend it by the end of the 2017-18 school year or we lose it. We have not been able to find interested partners – until now! I am very pleased that we have received interest from a local childcare provider to create space in Queen Victoria Public School. There will of course be a process to determine the feasibility of the proposal, and there are several parties including the City of Windsor which must agree to the arrangement. I will be doing what I can to help steward this process.

Ultimately, the result of the request for the Long Term Accommodation Plan was that trustees went from a unanimous rejection of an accommodation review back in May to unanimous support for two accommodation reviews in areas of our choosing six months later. But it is important to remember that administration's recommendations are just that. The solution can be much different and that is where trustees and the community come in. Feedback to trustees can occur formally during the accommodation process or at ANY TIME. The formal processes will begin in January and the decisions will be made at a special public board meeting on June 8. Hopefully there will be some creative ideas that will minimize the impact on the communities.

We are off now until the new year and our next meeting is on January 17. As always, the public are invited to attend at 7pm at the board office. I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday! See you in 2017!

Jessica

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Jessica Sartori