Report on November 5 school board meeting : LUSENET : Ottawa School Closures : One Thread



November 6, 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. Subscription requests and letters to the editor: <>.


Up to 3,335 new homes in the next five years

CWG Chair Angie Paterson described the five schools in Area 11, noting that they are all at or above 100% capacity. Goulbourn is a growing region, with up to 3,335 new homes anticipated within the next five years. The group proposed two options to meet the need for new pupil places. The first involved changing school boundaries and shifting the program offerings in some schools. The second called for the establishment of a grade 7 and 8 program at South Carleton High School, so that all five elementary schools can scale back to K-6 programs.

"For both options, we would like to propose that there be no grandfathering and no variances granted unless there is room at the desired school," the CWG report stated.

Trustee Lynn Scott asked for clarification of CWG's use of the term "grandfathering". Paterson said the shuffling of programs and grades would make it impossible for younger children to follow their older siblings to schools outside their neighbourhoods.

Trustee Albert Chambers asked whether the schools offering programs up to grade 8 could offer a rotary system. Paterson said they could. Chambers also asked whether it was logical to send students from A. Lorne Cassidy school to South Carleton High School, given that the flow seemed to be more towards Kanata. Paterson noted that the students would be sent to that school anyway, for grade 9.

Trustee Lynn Graham asked the CWG for its views on junior kindergarten, and whether long transportation times create undue stress for young children. She observed that JK also increases the number of students in schools that are already at full capacity. Paterson said junior kindergarten is not considered necessary in Goulbourn, adding that many parents see it as subsidized day care. Thirty families in Stittsville decided not to send their children to JK this year.

Trustee Jim Libbey questioned the CWG's desire to introduce Middle Immersion to this region. The group's report identified sufficient demand for the program. Trustee Libbey also asked Paterson why an Area 11 school listed at 100% capacity has four portables. The ensuing discussion focussed on flaws in the 100% occupancy demanded by the Ministry.

'Close schools....somewhere else'

With seven portables, CWG Chair Sheryl Rakus said the four elementary schools in Rideau Township are not seriously beyond their capacity. At the same time, the area's deficit of pupil places is negligible, so that the group could not identify any schools for closure.

Participants expressed strong interest in maintaining current programming, noting that portables allow for flexibility in an essentially rural area. The CWG called for extra classrooms for special education housed in community schools, adding that the imbalance produced in dual- and triple-track schools necessitates extra space to support these programs.

Area 12 did call for school closures elsewhere in Ottawa-Carleton, to reduce surplus space and "ensure an adequate level of funding for all students". The recommendation was based on the assumption that "this will enable the Board to receive from the Ministry, funding for new pupil places and capital funds, for new schools in growth areas." It acknowledged that "elimination of all surplus space may not reflect future changes in populations."

Trustee Pam Morse asked if there was any desire in the community for Middle Immersion. The CWG confirmed that there, noting that two extra classrooms are available at Kars PS. Trustee Lynn Scott questioned the level of interest in MFI, and asked whether a survey had been conducted. Survey data were included in the CWG report, but Scott asked for further information in an appendix to the report.

Trustee Albert Chambers asked whether overcrowding could be alleviated by converting Rideau Valley PS to JK-8. The CWG replied that Rideau Valley is too small to accommodate the idea.

Trustee Lynn Graham asked if the area had ever considered introducing an alternative program. Rakus said there was no need, and no one had asked for the program.

One school, virtually no surplus

This CWG consisted of one member, representing South Carleton HS, and the facilitator. Anne Herfst said her area has no surplus space, and no changes should be made. South Carleton obviously can't be closed, since it is the only high school in the area. 60% of its students come from Goulbourn Township, and 40% from Rideau. The farthest a student is bused is 29 kilometres.

Herfst expressed concern about the designation of part-time students as .5 ADE, noting that many of them are at school the entire day due to transportation and the availability of courses. On this basis, the school has 28 surplus spaces, rather than 107. The school could also repatriate gifted students from other zones -- but only the gifted ones, due to limited space. The CWG opposed Area 11's proposal to send grade 7 and 8 students to South Carleton, arguing that they are too young and the school has no room for them.

56 scenarios show that no school can close

CWG Chair Ian Buist said the group felt rushed and pressured to come with answers to issues that will have long-lasting repercussions on its community and the region. The group found errors in the Board's data for four schools, and questioned the physical evaluation scores that were determined by staff without actually visiting the schools. Much of the data that the group required was unavailable, or was provided too late.

The group tested 56 scenarios for reducing excess space in Area 7, which had been calculated at 1500 pupil places, and assessed the impact of closing each of its 12 schools. Participants concluded that any closing would have an unacceptably large impact on education, which the Board had identified as its first criterion for the area reviews. No scenario ever gained consensus or majority support, and it gradually became clear that no school could close without having a huge impact.

Buist noted that 1500 excess spaces translates into 60 empty classrooms, which could not be found in Area 7 because they don't exist. On this basis, the CWG concluded that the Ministry formula is unreasonable and unrealistic. To fill this gap, the group created its own formula, allowing for core French rooms, ESL rooms, and other essentials.

Trustee Albert Chambers asked for an example of one of the CWG's scenarios. Buist noted that if the Board closes Hilson St. PS, which has an average daily enrolment of 300, 150 students would go to Broadview PS and the rest would go to Elmdale. But both receiving schools are full, with portables. He said this theme recurred in each scenario.

Chambers asked about the availability of pupil places for grade 7 and 8 students in Area 7. Buist said the CWG had only received limited information on the question, but was told that the former Ottawa Board of Education had made a conscious decision to cut costs when Connaught PS was rebuilt five years ago: Connaught was designed as a K-6 school, grade 7-8 students Connaught and W.E. Gowling were relocated to Fisher Park HS, and Summit Alternative School was co-located at Fisher.

The school now has about 500 grade 7-8 students, Buist said, "and if Fisher Park were to be closed, there are many questions that were never answered about whether that can be done." The two other grade 7-8 programs in Area 7 are both full, the land on which the school was built is leased from the City of Ottawa, and the facility is "widely used by the community". Under the Ministry formula, community uses cannot be subtracted from the calculation of classroom space at Fisher.

Trustee Pam Morse noted that Area 7 was recommending core French and core English to immersion rooms, and asked Buist whether he realized that core teachers circulate among classrooms in the Board's "somewhat overcrowded suburban schools". Buist said the same is true in many Area 7 schools, adding that studies identify dedicated core rooms as the best environment for teaching a second language. Morse asked Buist whether he was asking for a "more generous way of offering the program" compared to suburban schools. Buist said he was not.

Trustee Lynn Scott invited Buist to explain why Hilson PS currently has 186 elementary students, even though the new building has 500 pupil places under the revised space formula, and asked where the additional students would come from. Buist explained that the new Hilson facility was designed for 350 students under the old capacity guidelines, not 500, at a time when its population was around 260. The population dropped considerably when the school moved to its temporary site at Fisher Park, but students are expected to return when the new building opens in January. Additional enrolment will come from the former Crane-Drummond site, which has been earmarked for a new housing development.

Scott stated that Fisher's enrolment this year is 353, not 500, and asked whether the movement of Area 7 students to Hilson would create space for grade 6-8 students from Fisher. Buist said Fisher's average daily enrolment this year is 470, including 70 at Summit. He clarified that the school serves grades 7 and 8, not grade 6, and explained that there are no other schools in Area 7 with the facilities and space to accommodate 350 students at that grade level. Broadview and D. Roy Kennedy Public Schools area the only sites in the area, he said, and "I don't see how moving 100 students back to Hilson is going to free up several hundred spaces in other schools."

Trustee Jim Libbey said the group's presentation had helped explain why schools "appear to be at or below capacity, but the numbers don't make sense". He asked whether the revised capacity data fell below the original Ministry calculation. Buist said most of the revised figures are lower, but Board staff still asked the CWG to work with the 100% capacity rating specified by the Ministry.

Trustee Patty Anne Hill drew applause from the gallery with her comment that CWG presenters are volunteers, not professional planners, and should not be expected to answer complicated questions from trustees. "They should not have to defend their position to the point that this presenter is being asked to do," she said. Speaking from the chair, Trustee Alex Getty, said presenters shouldn't feel compelled to answer questions that go beyond their technical expertise.

'Let us not arbitrarily close schools to meet Ministry requirements'

CWG representative Anne Teutch said Area 8 had based its work on a belief in the process -- consultation, containing education costs, the priority of having neighbourhood schools, and the importance of putting children's needs first. The group arrived at the conclusion that the school capacity ratings and projected enrolment figures provided by the Board were inaccurate. Based on a recalculation of school capacities and projected enrolment increases, the CWG recommended no school closures in Area 8.

The CWG's enrolment figures showed an upward trend for the past five years. Assuming that this trend continues for the next five years, Area 8 enrolment will increase by at least 100 pupils, compared to the staff projection of a decline of 240. In addition, Teutch pointed to new housing development under way in South Nepean, where another 4,000 housing units are planned over the next four years in the Longfield/Davidson Heights area. These units are expected to add another 600 students to area schools.

On school capacity, the CWG began with the 6600-pupil capacity from the province, then shifted to the slightly lower estimate of 6500 provided by board staff. The group decided not to load computer labs, specialized classrooms like design tech rooms, science labs or instrumental music rooms, and allowed the provincial capacity of nine students for special ed and ESL rooms currently in use.

The resulting capacity figure of 5800 spaces was almost 800 lower than the province's calculation -- and 250 lower than the area's 1998 enrolment. The group concluded that Area 8 schools are already over capacity, and the shortfall can be expected to increase by at least 100 over the next five years. There are currently 12 portables in use at Area 8 schools.

Teutch said the CWG had discussed a number of school boundary issues, and determined the Longfield/Davidson Heights area needs a new school now -- and will certainly need it in four years, given the expected pace of new housing development.

The group recommended no school closures, on the basis that the area has no surplus space under any enrolment scenario. As a means of reducing the 640 excess spaces that had been calculated based on Ministry capacity standards and 1997 enrolment data, participants considered closing McGregor Easson PS (234 pupil spaces) or Carleton Heights PS (452 spaces). But the CWG report stressed that this was *NOT* a recommendation, even though it resulted in a dissenting minority report from the two schools and three other working group members.

The minority report condemned "this manipulative process with patently false numbers," and observed that "the debate which has emerged during our Community Working Group meetings has served to both unite community members as well as divide neighbours."

Teutch called on the Board to work with the community to recalculate school capacity figures, using valid enrolment figures to achieve a balance. "Let us not arbitrarily close schools to meet Ministry requirements", she urged.

Trustee Patty Anne Hill commended CWG members for their honesty and soul-searching, and Trustee Andrew Lam pointed out that closing either McGregor Easson or Carleton Heights would not meet the space reduction required by the provincial government. Trustee Lynn Scott took note of the growth in South Nepean and asked whether the group had considered reopening a former Carleton Board school that had been mothballed some years ago. Teutch said the group had not considered this option, but agreed the facility was in the centre of the growth area.

Board can request changes to Ministry capacity ratings

Area 9 has 15 elementary schools, the largest number in any planning area. The CWG began the process with a surplus capacity estimate of 1031, based on Board data. By deducting existing special education rooms and computer labs, the group reduced its capacity figure from 6168 to 5536 students. Along with updated enrolment figures, the new capacity data lowered the surplus spaces in Area 9 to 399 places.

CWG representative Jennifer Smith expressed participants' frustration at what they considered clear mistakes in calculating school capacity. For example, two special education withdrawal rooms at Leslie Park PS were treated as normal classrooms, capable of holding 25 pupils each, when there are two full-time special ed teachers at the school and both rooms are used. When board staff were asked about this, the working group was informed that, sorry, there was no flexibility. Ministry of Education staff in Toronto informed the CWG that changes are possible, but the school board has to make the request.

Smith said the group received the same responses when it asked why the computer lab at Lakeview PS had been loaded as a normal classroom. Board staff said the Ministry was inflexible. The Ministry said the lab shouldn't be loaded if it is clearly a specialized room, but the school board must support the change.

"How many schools across the region have these errors?" Smith asked trustees. "Look at the results and consider the board-wide implications if our group can reduce surplus spaces from over a thousand to 400, simply by accounting for existing computer labs and special ed classrooms." She charged that the school closure process was far too rushed, and did not allow people time to think.

Smith also criticized the process of simply taking a current snapshot of schools. The implication is that if your school does not currently have a computer lab, it can never have one.

Area 9 called for an extension of the provincial deadline for the identification of surplus space, to allow for a thorough and proper review. "Much more time and clear thinking is needed to avoid irreparable damage to our schools," Smith stressed.

If the provincial deadline stands, she added, the Board should only close schools that are obvious candidates for closure, "if there are any". She noted that about 700 students from Area 9 currently attend school programs in Areas 7 and 8, and no Area 9 schools would have to close if these anomalies in program delivery were corrected.

Area 9 did present two scenarios for school closures. It stated that most of the 154 students at Queensway PS could walk to Pinecrest, and most of the children at Severn PS -- 70% of whom are in ESL programs, and most of whom are bused -- could walk to schools closer to their neighbourhood. The scenarios resulted in several minority reports and one picketer from Queensway, who stood outside Board offices while the presentation was under way.

Smith urged trustees to push for an extension of the provincial deadline, to allow time to reconsider the capacity calculation and minimize any school closures. "Governments and legislation can change," she said. "But these schools, once they are closed, are gone forever."

Trustee Lynn Scott commended the group for considering possible school closures, "as unpalatable as they are," and asked for more information on Area 9 students who attend school outside the area.

Trustee Sheryl MacDonald asked about the picketer from Queensway PS, who had complained that he was only called once during the school closure exercise. The Area 9 facilitator said a call had been made in mid-September but "was not returned".

Trustee Lynn Graham asked about the two schools the group had considered closing, noting that both had been designated Focus on Future schools by the former Ottawa Board. She asked whether the group had done an income study of the schools, and Smith said the group had not. She reiterated that many of the children at Severn could walk to Bayshore or Regina, although it is not clear that the volunteer-operated breakfast program could move from Severn to Bayshore. Smith objected to any implication that the working group had targeted two schools that had disadvantaged student populations.

Trustee Albert Chambers asked why Area 9 had not used the 90 or 95% load factor that other CWGs had adopted. Smith said the group had been trying to appear reasonable and find a middle ground. Working group member Nancy Moynihan said that the group would probably take other factors into account if they were starting anew, such as deducting specialized labs and music rooms.

Trustee Pam Morse asked about the possibility of closing Queensway and sending the students to Pinecrest, and repatriating the EFI students that now go to school in Area 7 to Bayshore PS. Working group member Patrick Curran said Area 9 faced a number of boundary issues, since it crossed the boundary where the former Ottawa and Carleton Boards met. He said many students who are bused to schools in the former Ottawa Board are close enough to walk to former Carleton Board schools.

'We don't think there are extra spaces now. As a whole, we will be under-resourced.'

CWG representative David Chaplin noted that Area D began its work with an estimate of 1500 surplus pupil places over nine high schools, but gradually concluded that there is no surplus capacity in any of the buildings. With significant new population growth anticipated in Central Park, Craig Henry, and other parts of the area, the CWG's "strong preference" was not to recommend any school closures. But to fulfill their mandate as "responsible community members", participants decided to identify Merivale High School as surplus to current space requirements.

The group's work did not include a detailed analysis of the capacity data, Chaplin said. "By consensus, we decided we could not study every school and measure it against the criteria." Instead, the CWG opted for a process of narrowing the options for school closures within the area. In the end, participants were left with a choice between Merivale and Confederation HS -- and two major considerations led them to recommend Merivale for closure:

Stressing that "in making our recommendations, we're not comfortable and we're not happy with it," Chaplin listed a series of specific expectations in the Area D report. The group stated that programs now offered at Merivale should be provided at neighbouring schools, the gifted program at Merivale should be transferred as a unit, and current Merivale students should be "granted the most flexibility possible" in choosing schools and programs. All Area D schools should offer the broadest possible range of programs, a comprehensive transportation policy should be put in place, and the community should be consulted on any future boundary changes. And if its recommendation on Merivale is accepted, the group emphasized that only one Area D school should close, so that students can still attend schools in their own neighbourhoods.

Trustee Pam Morse noted that the CWG had recommended returning Gloucester South students to their neighbourhood school. She received sustained applause for asking Chaplin whether the group realized that there is no high school in that community. A CWG representative said Area B parents had expressed interest in repatriating students from the Blossom Park area.

Morse also observed that the CWG report had referred to consultations with grade 7 and 8 programs in the area and asked whether that process had included participants from Gloucester South, where 30% of Merivale students originate. Chaplin replied that "we didn't have absolutely every middle and intermediate school. With a group of 34, we left it to people who wanted to come."

Trustee Norm MacDonald thanked the CWG for its emphasis on program considerations, noting that "that's the kind of thing that's really helpful to us in understanding the real situation." He observed that Laurentian HS has the largest number of surplus spaces in the area, and asked how the school's data had fit into the CWG's decision-making. A CWG representative replied that "we just looked at the whole school...the percentage and numbers didn't come into it." Chaplin added that Laurentian is located right beside the new Central Park development, and also houses a number of LD classes that make the school's loading appear lower.

Trustee Andrew Lam noted that the group had placed strong emphasize on minimizing the impact of changes on students and asked why participants had chosen to move 1158 students, in addition to the 900 who will be moving from Confederation to the new John McCrae HS in Barrhaven. Chaplin said the CWG had understood that 285 Merivale students would be moving back to Area B, so that the impact of closing the school would be diminished. The majority of the remaining students would be able to stay together at Confederation. In determining that Confederation offers a better overall distribution of students across the planning area, the CWG drew inspiration from a Board planning document, which advised that relocating students to a school closer to their homes might be seen as a positive impact. Chaplin said a shift to Confederation would bring the area "back to the idea of a community school," though several audience members disagreed with the comment.

Lam said John McCrae will be at or beyond capacity the day it opens, and suggested that Confederation will have less flexibility to absorb the overflow once Merivale students move in. "It's already overcrowded, and it might become even more so," he said. "The whole situation is going to become worse. The overcrowding now is not going to be resolved by this kind of recommendation." In light of the limited funds available for new school construction, he asked whether it might make more sense to keep the larger of the two schools open. Chaplin replied that Confederation is better situated to accommodate new growth.

"We don't think there are extra spaces now," he stressed. "As a whole, we will be under-resourced."

Trustee Patty Anne Hill the CWG to comment on distinctive programs that are offered at Merivale. Chaplin said all the programs now available at the school can be transferred elsewhere, or are already available.

Trustee Lynn Scott questioned whether Area D is actually full, particularly with 900 pupil places opening up at John McCrae. Chaplin noted that the area already has 20 portables, and some of its schools are beyond their capacity. With 900 more spaces, the schools will still be full. Scott asked how many students transfer to or from Area D from Kanata, Goulbourn and West Carleton. Chaplin said Area D receives about 600 students from other areas and sends about 1000 out.

Noting that Area D contains one-third of the Board's high schools, Trustee Albert Chambers asked the CWG to comment on the adequacy of the Ministry's assumed capacities. Chaplin said the group had insufficient time to look at the formula in detail, but "we're concerned that it's an unrealistic target. There are no real empty pupil places in the area, though we're not in a position to analyse school by school."

Speaking from the chair, Trustee Alex Getty thanked Merivale representatives in the audience for their restraint, noting that "you would have to be out of the country for the past two weeks not to be aware of your concern."

The Area D report is available online at


We received several comments and corrections on Issue #1 of The CWG Report.

First and foremost -- our thanks!! for the warm words of encouragement that came in from about a dozen readers, including three trustees. The CWG Report is very much a team effort, and everyone involved appreciates the feedback.

The area review process is a technical exercise in many ways, and we welcome corrections and clarifications on any content that appears in this summary publication.

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

-- Anonymous, November 06, 1998

Moderation questions? read the FAQ