Report on November 3 school board meeting : LUSENET : Ottawa School Closures : One Thread



November 4, 1998

CWG Report is produced by parent and community volunteers within the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board. Its purpose is to provide an accurate overnight summary of the 19 community working group presentations that will be brought forward to the Board on November 3, 5 and 10, primarily to encourage information-sharing among the CWGs and other participants in the school closure process. Editorial staff: Mitchell Beer, Stan Currie, Stephen Hall, Douglas Moggach, Alison Perry. Distribution: Stan Currie, Lamar Mason, David Orfald. Free subscription requests and letters to the editor: <>.



In introductory remarks, Director of Education Jim Grieve explained that the school closure process had begun last spring, and that the Board had negotiated a longer deadline to allow for public input. The provincial Ministry of Education has determined that there is surplus space in the system, and while Grieve claimed the numbers look correct, he said there are disagreements about the extent, definition and use of this space.

The Board has appealed to the Ministry to reduce the supposed excess by excluding music, computer and shop rooms from its calculations. But changes in the Ministry's funding formula mean there will be no grants for new pupil places in Boards that are deemed to have surplus space. Grieve said Ottawa-Carleton has areas of both growth and underutilization, and stated that the Board's commitment to neighbourhood schools makes this process difficult -- especially with limited time and inadequate information. He thanked the 19 CWGs for their contributions to the process, which he estimated at 10,000 person hours.

'Send children to neighbourhood schools; minimize disruption of lower grades'

CWG representatives Beverley Graham and Susan Irvine said Area 10 had not recommended school closures, since its facilities are already overcrowded. However, after studying 40 scenarios, participants recommended realigning school boundaries and moving an Early French Immersion programme from Bridlewood PS, a very overcrowded facility, to two adjacent schools (K-6 to John Young, 7 and 8 to W.O. Mitchell). The group also proposed the introduction of Middle French Immersion to one school in each of its two high school catchment areas.

Area 10 also suggested that the establish a network of zone councils, where the chair and a member of each school council in a planning area would meet to discuss common concerns, program viability, and use of facilities. With changes in demographics, the group said it would be useful to repeat the CWG process in five years.

Graham and Irvine said the group's original objective had been to limit its recommendations to changes in boundaries and structures that would meet student needs. The key issue was repatriation into community schools, but the provincial space formula shifted the focus to apparent underutilization of space in the southern part of the area, and program viability. As basic principles, the group agreed that children should attend school in their own neighbourhood or quadrant within the planning area; disruption of lower grades be minimized; specialized programs should be placed where excess capacity exists; and enrolment should be balanced.

Participants also stressed that each quadrant -- as defined by major thoroughfares in the planning area -- should have a complete and robust grade 7 and 8 program. The objective must be quality education, and the planning process should minimize student disruption and transportation. A long-term plan should be developed to address growth and population movements within the area, and any disruptions arising from the shift of the EFI program should be phased in over five years. While the CWG based its work on provincial figures, its report included a critique of the Ministry's practice of discounting special rooms for French, computers, etc.

In the discussion period, trustees expressed interest in the zone council idea. In reply to a question from Trustee Cynthia Bled, the CWG explained that its proposed placement of MFI programs was determined by space availability and the two high school recruitment areas. In response to Trustee Sheryl MacDonald, Graham and Irvine said 7% (341 out of 4894) of Area 10's projected population would be moved as a result of its plan. Trustee Albert Chambers asked whether the CWG considered the provincial formula of 100% capacity to be optimal. Graham and Irvine said the group had simply used the Ministry figures. Trustee Jim Libbey noted that schools in Kanata were overcrowded, even with the addition of a new facility with 587 places, and that many students are in portables.

'Almost every student in Grades 2 through 6 is warehoused in a portable'

Margot Humphreys of the Area 13 CWG described the severe overcrowding facing students at Fitzroy Harbour, Fitzroy Centennial, Stonecrest, Torbolton, and Huntley Centennial Public Schools. "Area 13 has 248 children without school space -- 336 if the projected 1998 enrolment of 1633 is used," she said. "There are 27 portables in the five schools, which gives West Carleton the dubious honour of having the largest proportion of elementary students in portables -- about 40%."

Huntley Centennial's 10 bus routes start picking children up between 7:00 and 7:15 a.m. "The strain this places upon the whole family is immense," Humphreys said. "How many people here tonight would be able to get up, washed and dressed, eat breakfast, make lunch, pack all the items needed for the day and be out the door before 7:00 in the morning? In the dark. In the cold. To a community bus stop which may be a long walk from your home, without sidewalks or streetlights. We're talking about JK students here, as well as those up to Grade 8."

With 16 classrooms and 11 portables at Huntley, "almost every student in Grades 2 through 6 is warehoused in a portable. A five-year sentence."

School infrastructure is a serious concern in Area 13. Fitzroy Harbour school has no gym or library, and toilet facilities at Huntley are insufficient for the school population. "Students from the 11 portables must wear their winter clothes and boots when they go to the washroom," Humphreys reported. "Small children are not always able to get a turn in time, and wet pants are not unknown."

CWG representative John Reid said the area review process had helped people in small West Carleton communities realize they were not alone. "It wasn't until the CWG came together that we each realized we weren't the only ones with portables. We have a big problem." And with a number of new subdivisions on the way in West Carleton, Kanata and Goulbourn, "it's not going to get any better. It's going to get worse, and rapidly."

Reid said the septic systems in West Carleton schools were never built to operate at 50% above capacity, noting that one school is already experiencing water quality problems. "What kind of environmental problems is the Board helping to create?" he asked. "How many wells are going to be polluted?" He added that overcrowding in West Carleton will not be solved "until we get to the stage where the Ministry will fund new schools."

Trustee Albert Chambers asked the Area 13 representatives whether they had calculated the level of overcrowding across the OCDSB system that would be needed, to generate enough provincial funds to solve the overcrowding problem in West Carleton. Reid said the CWG had not received enough information to produce that kind of analysis -- and that OCDSB staff may not have received sufficient information from the province. Director of Education James Grieve acknowledged that Area 13 schools "are stretched to the limit." But he noted that the Board will receive no new capital funds "as long as there remain square feet somewhere in our board that are surplus by Ministry definition."

Trustee Jim Libbey said the Board was still awaiting information on the specific circumstances that would generate capital dollars under the Ministry formula. "If any of us think we don't need a capital program and need it now," he said, "they need to stop thinking that way." Trustee Sheryl MacDonald commented that the needs in West Carleton "are different from the problems facing us in the inner city, but they're certainly every bit as important." She said the Board should look at the "big picture", rather than focussing exclusively on one situation or the other.

Board Chair Lynn Scott asked whether the CWG had looked at ways of shifting students out of West Carleton. Humphreys said contiguous areas are already overcrowded, and 1200 new homes are now under construction in rural Kanata. Scott noted that the newly-opened section of Stonecrest PS had first been requested in 1987, and had received funding in 1992, so that "it took 13 years to get half a school".

'Establish strict guidelines on variances'

CWG representative Bill Beck noted that Area E's report relied heavily on capacity and enrolment data that had shifted somewhat in the course of the group's work. The CWG adjusted the Board's capacity estimate for West Carleton High School from 923 to 879, to reflect two classrooms dedicated to the Bill Mason Centre, and reported a 2.2% enrolment increase -- from 2615 to 2674 students -- based on the Board's 1997 estimates. The analysis shows that the area's three regular high schools have 11 pupil places that can't really be described as excess capacity. "It comes down to some fraction of a percent based on students' enrolment," Beck said.

On this basis, the group recommended no school closures or boundary changes, but drew trustees' attention to three students at A.Y. Jackson HS and 42 at Earl of March HS who have received variances from their regular placements at West Carleton. It recommended that the Board establish strict guidelines on variances, since the students who receive them contribute to overcrowding at the schools they attend.

Area E also recommended that the Frederick Banting Alternate Site Program remain at a separate location. "We see the benefit to students who just cannot adapt to being in a regular classroom, under the same roof, in the same bricks and mortar," Beck said. "Students can learn in an environment that responds to their needs." The Area 3 report recommended that the Board continue to offer a range of special education programs, noting that "the co-location of the alternate program within a traditional high school would cause disruption to both student bodies and be destructive to the aims of the program."

Beck acknowledged that the group's decision not to recommend boundary changes would necessitate continued use of portables at A.Y. Jackson and Earl of March, but noted that the 126 "open seats" at West Carleton would soon be filled by continued growth in the area. West Carleton elementary schools are already overcrowded, he said, "and we expect that to continue right up into the secondary level. As time moves on, this excess will disappear."

The group report also stressed that a lack of transportation infrastructure prevents Area E students from taking part in after school activities. "The cancellation of after hours busing makes it extremely difficult for students to receive extra help from teachers and participate in extracurricular activities," the report stated. "The provision of after hours busing, at least once a week, should be re-established." The group also called for minor retrofits to open up new classroom space at Earl of March and supported continuation of environmental awareness programs at the Bill Mason Centre, although scheduling and pricing at Bill Mason may need to be reviewed.

In response to a question from Trustee Jim Libbey, Beck said West Carleton students are on the bus within five minutes of the final bell. "It's that abrupt an ending of the day at the school," he said. "That's sure not secondary school as I remember it," Libbey replied. Trustee Albert Chambers noted that two of the most overcrowded schools in the city, Nepean HS and Lisgar Collegiate, can accommodate larger populations by running longer days and relying on OC Transpo to move students in and out at different times.

Replying to a question from Board Chair Lynn Scott, Beck said about 300 Area E students attend vocational, gifted, or arts programs in other parts of the Board. Trustee Lynn Graham asked Beck how the 42 variances from West Carleton to Earl of March had been approved. Beck explained most of the students had been transferred to keep them together with older siblings, adding that the variance numbers were expected to decline over time. From the audience, Deborah McLean of the West Carleton School Council added that West Carleton students have to transfer to Earl of March if they want to take part in after school programs.

'Surplus spaces' evaporate under detailed analysis

Area 4 is bounded by the railway tracks south of Walkley Road on the south, the Airport Parkway and Rideau River to the West, Industrial Avenue to the north and Highway 417 to the east. Four of its schools four (Arch Street, Charles Hulse, Pleasant Park and Riverview) are JK-6, and the other four (Alta Vista, Featherston, Hawthorne and Vincent Massey) are JK-8.

The CWG began its work by examining various closure scenarios, but concluded there was negligible surplus space in its schools. Its report presented a classroom-level analysis for each school that assumed 25 students per regular classroom and nine students per special education room actually in use. The calculation excluded computer labs, design and technology rooms, instrumental music rooms, resource withdrawal rooms, and leased day care, but included core French and core English withdrawal rooms, art rooms, and science rooms. This analysis yielded a total pupil capacity of 3772 spaces, 470 below the Board's capacity rating of 4242 as of September, and 688 below the capacity of 4460 that the province had originally calculated.

By combining this total with 1998 enrolment numbers, which were 120 pupils above the Board's 1997 figures, Area 4 calculated a total surplus of 96 pupil places. If the student population increases by the same rate in 1999, the surplus will shrink to 58. If a 95% load factor is used, instead of the 100% the province has demanded, Area 4 shows a small deficit of 93 pupil spaces in 1998.

Area 4 also obtained census data from Statistics Canada that showed a steep increase in preschool-age children between the 1991 and 1996 census, along with a high percentage of seniors occupying single-family homes. This seniors' housing will turn over in the near future, and will be occupied by families with children. The group also reported on a number of housing developments that are currently approved, under way, or expected in its area, and noted that much more housing development is expected in Area 5 to the south, which has historically sent its student overflow to schools in Area 4.

The CWG recommended no school closures in its area, on the basis that it has negligible surplus space, expects increased enrolment, and will require flexibility to meet future demands. They group also questioned whether the provincially-mandated school closure process allowed sufficient time and adequate data for informed decision-making, whether it would actually result in new school construction where it is most needed, and whether the process amounted to an expropriation of community assets. Area 4 urged trustees to speak on behalf of the community to the provincial government.

In the discussion period, trustees asked about the differences between the CWG's capacity figures and provincial data. They noted that the McHugh School at Alta Vista PS is considered a part of the public board's surplus capacity, even though it is rented to the Separate Board, and asked about the possibility of renting excess school space on a cost-recovery basis.

Trustee Jim Libbey said Area 4's detailed calculation of capacity, and its use of a 95% capacity rating as a planning target, had important implications for long-term planning across the region, as opposed to trying for 100% capacity on current enrolment.

Trustee Lynn Scott asked if the CWG had data to back up their argument that empty nest households will be turning over, leading to an influx of families with children. The group produced a letter from a market research analyst who argued that the 10% increase in 0- to 14-year-olds between 1991 and 1996 was very significant, since the total population of Area 4 had actually declined during this period and the number of households had remained stable. The letter noted that proposed development in the Rideau Veterans' Home area, west of CHEO, will include seniors' housing units that are expected to attract the area's empty nesters and older seniors, thus increasing the turnover of the existing housing stock.

'Treat provincial capacity standard as maximum target, not minimum operating standard'

The Area B CWG reported that of the four high schools in its area, Canterbury is fully used with portables, Ridgemont has significant unused capacity, and Hillcrest and Brookfield are at 85-95% capacity after deducting labs and other special-use rooms.

The group based its work 95% of actual 1998 enrolment figures, which was almost 200 pupils above the Board's 1997 figures. This calculation gave them excess capacity of just under 10% for the four high schools (419 surplus spaces, based on 95% of 4341 current enrolment). Assuming that existing programs will continue, participants considered extending the catchment area to take in some or all of the Gloucester communities in the south of the Planning Area. They also looked at the possibility of renting some of the excess space.

Area B recommended keeping all four schools open, to maintain access to English and French immersion programs and retain the thriving arts magnet program at Canterbury. Based on 1998 enrolment, this resulted in a 2-3% surplus of pupil spaces. When the nearby suburban areas in South Gloucester were added to the catchment area, the CWG concluded that enrolment in all programs should remain viable well beyond 2002.

The working group also argued that students in the Carleton Heights area (west of Hog's Back bridge), who now walk to Brookfield High from Planning Area D, should remain where they are.

Trustees' questions dealt with the patriation of South Gloucester students >from their current schools. Currently, 309 students from Area B attend Merivale High and 38 attend Gloucester High. The group said the planning process did not allow sufficient time to consult with adjacent CWGs on this issue, but expressed concern about the adequacy of OC Transpo service to bring South Gloucester students to Brookfield or Ridgemont.

The working group also concluded that there was no advantage in busing 26 students from Osgoode High into Ottawa.

The CWG stressed that the determination of school capacity is a core issue in this process, arguing that provincial government capacity ratings should be viewed as maximum targets, not minimum operating levels. If the capacity ratings become an operating standard, "most students may be in crowded schools most of the time, waiting for the now-funded new schools to be built. And there will be little flexibility to accommodate any daytime community use whatsoever." Trustee Jim Libbey noted the importance of arriving at proper planning assumptions for school capacity.

New residential development means enrolment growth

Elementary Planning Area 5 is a suburban growth area with 10 public schools -- Bayview, Blossom Park, Dunlop, Elizabeth Park, Fielding Drive, General Vanier, R. Byrns Curry, Robert Bateman, Roberta Bondar and Sawmill Creek. Over 30% of projected residential development inside Ottawa-Carleton's Greenbelt is expected to take place in this area, for a total of 4200 new housing units in the next five years. While Area 5 already has portables at its three new schools -- Bateman, Bondar and Sawmill Creek -- the provincial capacity ratings suggest that the area has 332 surplus spaces (total capacity: 4526).

The CWG was emphatic in its concern that the school closure process is based entirely on present enrolment, not on reasonable future projections. They also disagreed with the Board's planning assumption that the area will see a net decline in enrolment over the next five years.

"It is unreasonable to expect schools to operate at full capacity and to identify anything less as excess space," the group stressed. "Many factors cause enrolment to fluctuate from year to year, and unused space one year should not be closed and made inaccessible for future years. A more realistic expectation would be to plan for 90% of capacity on a multi-year basis."

Working group participants recommended that all its schools remain open, noting that any surplus space will be necessary to absorb future growth in the region. They also asked that programs not currently offered in the area, such as Middle French Immersion and alternative schools, be made available in Area 5. About 500 students currently travel out of Area 5 to attend these programs, approximately 100 students to Area 4.

A good deal of the working group's presentation was taken up with a detailed examination of the pros and cons of various measures to reduce surplus space, with or without school closures. For each scenario, the group measured the outcome against the criteria that the Board had established for the process. For the future, the CWG stressed that accurate, complete data must be available before program reviews are undertaken.

In a brief discussion period, Trustee Norm MacDonald asked how many students Area 5 could repatriate through boundary changes. The CWG estimated 30 from the Carleton Heights neighbourhood and 70 from Riverside South. Trustee Pam Morse said Area 4 had assumed it would absorb population growth from Roberta Bondar PS, meaning that Area 5 could move its reloctables from Blossom Park PS to solve capacity problems at Bondar. This would open up space at Blossom Park for children from new housing developments, some of whom would live less than a kilometre from the school. A CWG representative said the group agreed that any excess space would be absorbed in the next few years.

Trustee Cynthia Bled said there was no question that Area 5 had 300 surplus spaces, and asked whether the working group had determined why 563 students were transferring out. The CWG representative attributed the transfers to MFI, alternative schools, and the availability of day care spaces in adjacent planning areas. She added that the group had been discouraged from requesting onsite day care at this time, on the basis that the province would not fund it after January 1.

Trustee Albert Chambers asked staff to comment on the practicality of "trying to relocate the relocatables". An administration representative explained that "our success has been mixed when we've tried to relocate a relocatable module." While the frames can usually be salvaged, he said the units are well enough integrated with the permanent structures that the school buildings are often damaged in the process.

Mitchell Beer
Mutchmor Save Our Schools Committee
252 Holmwood Ave.
Ottawa, ON K1S 2P9
(613) 237-6227

-- Anonymous, November 04, 1998

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