Meeting Notes - May 17, 2016

The big item on the agenda tonight was the recommendation from administration that we conduct another accommodation process, otherwise known as a PARC.

That the Board approve the immediate commencement of a standard program accommodation review that includes Dougall Avenue PS, Begley PS, Hugh Beaton PS, John Campbell PS, King Edward PS, Prince Edward PS, and Queen Victoria PS, as set out in the program accommodation review – initial staff report, dated May 3, 2016.

The agenda from May 3 contains details about the rationale for the PARC including Census statistics, student enrollment, and the FCI of schools in our board. Please see handwritten pages 27 to 152 for information about this PARC.

Please also see handwritten pages 153 to 160 for the Long-Term Accommodation Priority Report. These are the priority geographic areas identified by administration as potentially requiring PARCs:

  • Central Area Windsor Elementary Schools (the current PARC recommendation)
  • Leamington Elementary Schools
  • Riverside Elementary Schools
  • Review of French Immersion Boundaries, specific English Boundaries and needs

In a previous post I said that I believe it is necessary to view these issues from a board-wide perspective. I believe trustees must make responsible decisions for the entire system, just like city councillors. As it turns out, the other trustees agree.

On May 17 we had many speakers and delegates talking about what these schools mean to them and the fact that closing schools in the core would fly in the face of some of the positive things we are seeing in the community including the Downtown Farmer’s Market and Open Streets Pilot. Trustees clearly expressed an unwillingness to entertain this PARC; in fact, the recommendation was not even put on the floor. While this was a welcome outcome for residents in these communities, it left the board in limbo with a $1.5 million deficit, declining enrollment, and aging infrastructure. I brought what was basically a replacement recommendation forward:

That administration have 6 months to develop a board-wide strategic plan for accommodations that includes community partners, in particular but not limited to, municipal governments.

The unfortunate reality is we do have 3 board-wide pressures including declining enrollment, empty student spaces, and aging infrastructure which are currently affecting our budget and eventually our ability to provide the programming opportunities this community deserves. But because these are board-wide problems, we need a strategic community-minded solution rather than a neighbourhood by neighbourhood solution that is not based on our values and principles.

We need to approach the problem differently.

I think we are looking at solutions through a short-term lens. There are other avenues we need to explore and school closures should be a last resort rather than our go-to solution.

For example, the board has other facilities that we should look at to examine whether we can cut costs: the Employment Centre and Newcomer Centre on Ouellette Avenue are good examples. And they are within close proximity to Queen Victoria.

We have barely scratched the surface on community partnerships and hubs. We put out a call to organizations in the city and county and only 3 parties expressed interest. I wonder if it is possible to have help from an agency that could facilitate such partnerships with us. For example, United Way has a very broad reach into the community. Perhaps they can help us find partners.

But for me, the main issue is that we need to consider ourselves an essential community service. We need to consider our place within the broader community and I think we owe it to our friends and neighbours to take another look before we jump to a solution.

We need to consider the approach of Toronto District School Board and the City of Toronto and involve the municipalities in this plan intricately and proactively and ask how we can be a part of some of the great things happening: unemployment is decreasing, housing prices are increasing, and there are Community Improvement Plans being conducted by the City of Windsor. We need to ask how we can help and be careful not to reverse these positive trends. We cannot work in a silo.

I am pleased that the recommendation passed unanimously and we will begin our planning immediately.

In addition, new Notices of Motion were brought by Trustee Julia Burgess that community members not be restricted in terms of the time period they have to wait to speak on the same issue at a Board meeting, and that community members be allowed to use schools for meetings about accommodations. 

These Motions will be debated at the next Board meeting on June 7. Before then, I will be holding the public meeting in Sandwich Town that I promised when the Forster property was sold. All are welcome to attend the meeting on May 28 at 1:30pm at Bedford United Church, 3340 Sandwich Street, Windsor, Ontario. Coffee and snacks will be served. Hope to see you there!

Jessica

Do you like this post?
Jessica Sartori