Meeting Notes - June 8 & 20, 2017

A Special Meeting of the GECDSB was held on June 8 to determine the outcome of accommodation reviews in Forest Glade and Leamington. 

Accommodation reviews are conducted when we need to look at the sustainability of a school or family of schools (high school + elementary feeder schools) based on enrollment and/or school condition. This can lead to boundary reviews and school closures. The reason that enrollment is important in this respect is because we primarily receive funding based on the number of students we have. School boards in Ontario are receiving more money from the provincial government on a per student basis than we ever have, however, because we have fewer students at GECDSB there is less money to invest in maintaining our existing infrastructure. We need to make these decisions wisely. 

Recall that in spring 2016 administration brought forward a recommendation to close schools in core Windsor neighbourhoods. Queen Victoria, Hugh Beaton, and Prince Edward were all at risk of closure. This recommendation came forward because GECDSB has been faced with thousands of empty student spaces, a deficit, and ever-increasing building maintenance and repair needs. Trustees did not support a review of core schools and instead I brought a motion for a report detailing all schools across the board to understand the issue from a strategic perspective. The motion was supported by all voting trustees. We received the report in October 2016 which clearly showed that the Forest Glade and Leamington areas should be the board’s priorities. In addition, it showed that some families of schools throughout the board are lacking local French Immersion opportunities and they are losing students to FI programming in other schools. This is a problem that needs to be addressed. Access to French Immersion needs to be equitable and at a minimum needs to keep students in their own family of schools, preferably in their home school because otherwise those home schools are put at risk as they lose students. Leamington and Sandwich Town are two areas lacking FI programming.

Trustees voted unanimously to conduct accommodation reviews in Forest Glade and Leamington as a result of the October 2016 report. Administration also continued to look for savings in other areas.

Meetings were held in each community to gather feedback from the community at large. PARC Committees consisting of principals of involved schools and community members met with board representatives in order to discuss possible solutions as well as any issues we need to be aware of in these schools and communities. Members of the public were invited to make presentations to the board of trustees at any time.

Forest Glade

The recommendations for Forest Glade passed unanimously as they were presented by administration:

1) The board will submit a school consolidation capital business case to the Ministry of Education for a 535 pupil place new school building. Upon Ministry approval, this new Jk-8 school construction would be a consolidation of the Eastwood PS and Parkview PS student populations, with the site to be determined. Upon construction of the new school, Eastwood PS and Parkview PS buildings would be closed and declared surplus to the board’s needs, and the students would transition to the new school. The boundaries would be adjusted accordingly.

2) The final proposed part of the recommendation involves a boundary adjustment for September 2017. The English track students currently attending Forest Glade PS (in district) are able to remain until graduation, without transportation, if at the same address. Any new registrations or JK students (English track) from September 2017 and forward will adhere to the new boundary which is as follows:

i) the current Forest Glade PS boundary (English track) that is North of E.C. Row, south of Wildwood Drive (south side), east of Pineview Crescent (not including), and west of Soulliere Drive (not including) will become part of the Parkview PS boundary.

ii) the principals of the schools, in consultation with their school councils, work with senior administration to Implement and communicate the changes through a transition committee.

It is also important to note that Forest Glade PS and Forest Glade Primary Learning Centre will be closed and a new single-building school built on the same site if the above recommendations are approved by the Ministry. My understanding from Administration is we were not required to vote on this part of the report because it involves rebuilding a new school on the same site. Currently the buildings are right next door to each other and share a Principal and other staff. However, the procedure of not voting did create some confusion as many parents were hoping for this outcome and were not sure if it passed. We will need to think about how this is handled in the future.

I voted in favour of these recommendations because of the repair needs in light of the number of empty student spaces as well as the feedback from parents which was rather supportive overall. Furthermore, it is not an area identified by United Way as at risk of Poverty of Place. There were some questions from parents about where the new school would be built and the boundary changes. However, in comparison to other accommodation reviews, the community indicated they wanted new schools. Please understand that this is not the case for every community, for example, the Hugh Beaton and Queen Victoria neighbourhoods want the board to maintain these historic schools. This was a win-win situation.

Leamington

The Leamington vote was much tougher. I toured the area with Trustee Taves a couple of weekends before the meeting and was astonished at the large playgrounds and green space the board is supporting at the Leamington schools. I was also impressed by all of the new homes being built in the outer the Leamington areas. Trustees did not support the recommendations put forth by Administration in their entirety. Kudos goes to Trustee Taves for talking with his constituents, Leamington council, and community leaders to develop a set of recommendations he believed is in the best interest of the town and GECDSB. If we could keep all of our schools open, we would. Trustees unanimously supported the following recommendations:

1) Mill Street PS close effective June 2017 and be declared surplus to the board’s needs. Students currently in the catchment area who are on and north of Talbot Street West will transition to Mt. Carmel-Blytheswood PS and the remaining students currently in the Mill Street PS catchment area south of Talbot Street West will transition to Queen Elizabeth PS effective September 2017. The boundary will be adjusted accordingly.

2) A phased–in dual track French Immersion JK/SK program at Gore Hill PS begin for September 2017, each year thereafter, a French Immersion grade level program will be added. If the Ministry approves the following recommendations, the FI program would continue to exist in the newly built consolidated school. The boundaries for FI would encompass the entire Leamington family of schools.

3) The board will submit a School Consolidation Capital (SCC) business case to the Ministry of Education for a 540 pupil place new school building. Upon Ministry approval, this new JK-8 school construction would be a consolidation of the Gore Hill PS and MD Bennie PS student populations, on the MD Bennie site. Upon construction of the new school, Gore Hill PS would be closed and declared surplus to the board’s needs, and the students would transition into the new building. The boundaries would be adjusted accordingly.

4) If the proposed accommodation option #1, above, is approved, the Board will then pursue capital funding from the ministry of Education and upon approval;

- Priority 1: The construction of a new consolidated Queen Elizabeth PS; or

- Priority 2: The construction of a five room addition to the new consolidated Queen Elizabeth PS.

5) The final proposed part of the options involves boundary adjustments for September 2017. The students currently attending these five schools as of the 2016-2017 school year will be granted a limited exception, without transportation, to remain at the respective school until grade 8, if at the same address. Any new registrations for JK students from September 2017 and forward will adhere to the new boundaries which are as follows:

i) The current MD Bennie PS boundary north (including) Mersea 3 road and east (including) Hodgins Street, which is north of the abandoned track, will become part of the Mt. Carmel-Blytheswood PS boundary.

ii) The current Queen Elizabeth PS boundary that is west of Erie Street (including the west side of the street) will become part of the MD Bennie PS boundary. The principals of the schools, in consultation with their school councils, work with senior administration to implement and communicate the changes through a transition committee.

Although Administration had proposed closing multiple schools, trustees supported Trustee Taves’ amendments which included only closing Mill Street PS, which is in poor condition. This is an area of Leamington with substantial declines in enrollment with no plans for new homes to attract families to the area. In the absence of alternatives, I believe these were the best decisions we could make at this time.

Accommodation reviews are not my favourite thing about being a trustee. I do not take pleasure in them, but as in our households, we need to be responsible with limited resources, and they are an opportunity to act in the interests of the broader community. This is now my third experience with accommodation reviews and I have learned a lot. I believe school boards need to prioritize impacts on the community in our decision-making, however, we cannot do it alone and Trustee Taves brought the recommendations forward that he believed are best for his community.

At the June 20 board meeting, our final meeting before breaking for the summer, trustees primarily discussed updates to several board policies that are not controversial. The agenda for that meeting can be found here if you are interested. All recommendations passed. There was also a motion by a trustee for a report on changing over the remaining open concept schools in his area to a more closed model. I would like feedback on this if you would like to call or email me. I understand the trustee’s concern that it is noisy for students and teachers and I would not want anyone to be in distress, but I am not sure about the cost nor where this money is coming from. There is work to be done in many of our schools. I wish we could afford everything, we have to prioritize. One crucial piece of information will be whether there are differences in the educational outcomes between students in open concept schools and students in closed classrooms. Do students in open concept schools struggle more, have poorer EQAO results, and lower graduation rates? I am looking forward to hearing from you, other trustees, and administration.

I hope to enjoy some time with family this summer when I take my vacation. Although we do not have scheduled meetings in July and August, meetings may be called on issues needing attention and I am always available should you have any questions. I am continuing to pursue community partnerships to try to access the retrofitting funding. I do have a couple of promising leads, but we are in the early stages. I hope to provide a positive update in the future. Have a restful and enjoyable summer!

Jessica

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Jessica Sartori