Report on November 10 school board meeting : LUSENET : Ottawa School Closures : One Thread



November 11, 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: <>.


Please note: Due to technical difficulties, overnight reports for Elementary Planning Areas 1 and 6 and Secondary Planning Area C were not available as of 1:50 a.m. November 11. The reports will be distributed as soon as possible.

Real estate transfer would be 'the closest thing to theft'

CWG representative Lori Simpson recounted the serious negative consequences that would result from the provincially-mandated school consolidation process. She urged trustees to follow other Ontario school boards and defy the province's demand to eliminate a "government-defined surplus" of school space. And she recommended that the Board refuse to comply with the goal of achieving 100% capacity in its schools. "It is certainly not putting kids first," she emphasized.

Area 2 expressed strong disagreement with the provincial plan to dispose of schools declared surplus by the Ottawa-Carleton Board. With other school boards trying to dispose of school buildings at the same time, Simpson said any schools that closed in Ottawa-Carleton would probably end up in the hands of the Ontario Realty Corporation. If 20 schools were closed, Ottawa-Carleton taxpayers would lose real estate worth an estimated $20 million. Simpson cited Ottawa Citizen columnist Randall Denley, who described such a transaction as "the closest thing to theft."

Simpson also expressed serious concern about the province's new funding formula for new school construction. Since the provincial capital grant is limited to $11 per square foot, the Board would only receive $550,000 for a 500-student school that would realistically cost $6.5 million to build. Amortized over 25 years, the total cost would grow to $13.75 million after interest costs were added in. "So we give away $20 million and get back about a half-million dollars in a grant, plus a 25-year loan," Simpson said. "A grant that would result in a huge debt -- for taxpayers, for our children, and in all likelihood for *their* children. This new way of financing schools is the clearest example that this whole exercise is about cuts to education and stealing community assets."

She also noted that the province's standard allowances of $5.20 per square foot for maintenance and 100 square feet per elementary student failed to capture differences in space needs and layout among schools.

Trustee Cynthia Bled commended CWG participants for their efforts, but asked about the minority report from the eastern end of Area 2. Simpson noted that the majority report had been supported by participants from across the planning area, and explained that the minority report had to do with altering school boundaries and repatriating students who now attend schools further to the west. She said the majority had recommended that the Board allow grandfathering for any boundary changes, so that students can remain where they are if they choose to.

Trustee Norm MacDonald asked about the CWG's surplus space calculations. Simpson said the original capacity calculations had fully loaded ESL withdrawal rooms. The group also designated some basement rooms for computer labs or core French, after running into disagreements about assigning students to those rooms for an entire school day.

Trustee Lynn Scott expressed disappointment that Area 2 had begun its process by deciding not to close schools, and asked if participants had considered the harm done to all students if excess space is kept open in defiance of the province. Simpson said fair funding from the province was the key. She urged the Board to "join with parents and school boards across the province and stand up to Mike Harris".

Downtown core shows continued population growth

Elementary Planning Area 3 consists of 11 schools in Lowertown, Sandy Hill, Centretown, Somerset Heights (west of Bronson), the Glebe, and Old Ottawa South. CWG representative Colleen Leighton said the group had reviewed the original calculation of 1500 surplus spaces for the area and concluded that the true figure was closer to 700 spaces.

Area 3 proposed to reduce its excess space through a revised process that reductions in the calculations of excess capacity, program restructuring that would repatriate some French immersion students who attend schools in Areas 7 and 2, and a site protection process that would retain any surplus schools as community assets on a cost-recovery basis.

"This is just an example of the analysis that we didn't have time to complete," she said. Area 3 has some surplus space, "but far less than the Ministry of Education or the OCDSB might think."

Leighton echoed other CWGs' findings that the provincial space formula was flawed, that working groups had been provided with conflicting, confused data, and that the six-week study period had left many questions unanswered or only partially addressed. Of particular concern, she noted that the provincial formula made no allowance for specialized services like the orthopedic unit at Centennial PS.

Area 3 presented a demographic projection done for the City of Ottawa that showed continued population growth in the city core. This was butressed by the building permits for more than 1600 new housing units that have been issued in the last two years alone. Leighton noted that the region's Official Plan calls for further intensification in the core.

Leighton also stressed that the process had failed to take account of community uses of schools. "Our schools are places for academic learning, but they are also extensions of our communities and our homes," she said. The CWG acknowledged the urgent need for new school construction in some parts of the Board, but stressed that the provincial funding formula would not provide sufficient funds for that purpose -- even with downtown school closures. Leighton stressed the need for a school funding process that will accommodate suburban and rural needs without creating severe new problems in the urban core.

CWG representative Carmen Contreras conveyed Area 3's recommendation for a region-wide school closure formula, noting that the CWG had used a 90% capacity factor and excluded specialty rooms and inappropriate spaces. She recommended that the Board undertake a six-month program restructuring study in Areas 2, 3 and 7 "that builds on our strengths and resources in individual schools and across the community". Such a process, she said, will leave the Board with a better educational infrastructure, with minimum disruption to students.

"There was no doubt in our minds and hearts about what we have to do, and therefore what we could not do," Contreras told trustees. On that basis, Area 3 recommended a process to eliminate surplus space in the downtown core by September 2000, based on the broadly-based consensus that has been allowed to develop in some other planning areas.

Trustee Lynn Graham commented that "I don't think the government realizes what a monster they've created. We've just got thousands of highly informed, active people across the province, and I think that's wonderful."

Trustee Albert Chambers asked about the special situation of Centennial PS, describing the school as a unique facility that has achieved a high degree of integration for students with special needs. He noted that the province had identified 390 "surplus" spaces in the facility. The CWG said this was another example of the need for further analysis. Chambers asked where Grade 7 and 8 students would go if any of the area's 7-8 schools were closed. Leighton said the CWG hadn't studied that particular question, but had found that any closure would affect a number of other schools -- in Area 3 and beyond.

Trustee Norm MacDonald challenged Area 3's decision not to load basement classrooms at York Street and Mutchmor PS, asking how the rooms differed >from portables. Leighton replied that "we also have portables in this area, which some people may not imagine." She noted that the basements in older schools have problems with heating and ventilation, and agreed that "it's not satisfactory accommodation in either situation." MacDonald asked Leighton which option she would choose for her child. Leighton replied that the principal at Mutchmor is unwilling to locate children in the basement for a full day, due to air quality concerns.

New boundaries to address population growth

CWG representative John Morgan said he was "very pleased that Mike's Moving and Storage is no longer parked at our front door," adding that he welcomed the extra time that the province had allowed school boards "to decide what to move, what to throw out, and what to keep". While Area A's 1998 enrolment falls slightly below its capacity of 8200 students, population projections bring the area above capacity for 1999, and show continuing growth through 2002.

The CWG's analysis showed considerable differences in the current use of the area's seven high schools. Cairine Wilson HS is currently 30% below capacity, and its population is expected to fall substantially by 2002; Colonel By HS, on the other hand, is slightly above capacity, and will be far more crowded by 2002. The area also has two very strong specialized programs -- the gifted program at Lisgar Collegiate Institute, and the popular International Baccalaureate at Colonel By.

Based on its population projections, the CWG recommended no school closures for Area A. Instead, it called for boundary changes affecting Cairine Wilson, Gloucester, and Sir Wilfrid Laurier HS, aimed at balancing school populations and eliminating the use of portables to the extent possible.

Morgan noted that 1500 students -- about half of the secondary population of Orleans, Cumberland and Blackburn Hamlet -- are currently bused out of the area. He said the proposed boundary changes would add some blocks of student population to Cairine Wilson, and a small area to Gloucester, in a way that reflects natural transportation corridors and accommodates anticipated growth in the Sir Wilfrid area. "We believe that students should be able to walk to school in their community if there is capacity," he stressed. If the boundary changes are implemented, fewer students will be bused, and all the schools in the area will be about 10% over capacity by 2002.

The CWG acknowledged the minority report from Colonel By HS, which expressed concern that the boundary changes would leave it with too small a critical mass of students for programs other than the International Baccalaureate. By 2002, the IB would account for about 60% of the school's population.

Area A endorsed the family of schools concept as a means of providing reasonable access to a wide range of electives for all students within a defined area, and spoke against open boundaries for high school programs. It also recommended phasing out transportation funding for secondary students, except for rural areas, unreasonable travel times, field trips, and cases of financial hardship. The group called on trustees to continue negotiating improved transportation through OC Transpo, private carriers, and any other available mechanisms. It expressed strong support for the Rideau High School day care program, and recommended extending the model to other schools.

Referring to all the schools in Area A, Morgan concluded that "these facilities should be viewed as community assets. They are used not only by school kids, but by the community," and "we should not be going through any fire sale on these assets."

Trustee Pam Morse expressed concern that the proposed boundary change would require some students to walk under the Queensway to get to school. Morgan said the crossings are safe, and the parents on the CWG saw no problem with the change.

Trustee Norm MacDonald asked whether the CWG had confirmed OC Transpo's ability to handle the proposed additional volume of students. Morgan said the CWG had had no contact with the transit company, but "we do know that OC Transpo is looking to increase its ridership". MacDonald asked why the CWG had chosen 2002 as the final year for its projection. Morgan said Board figures were not available beyond that date.

Trustee Albert Chambers asked whether Area A had had any concerns about the school-by-school capacity figures it had received. Morgan said there were major problems with the assessment of McArthur HS and the Adult High School. Otherwise, the group was satisfied with the capacity data. Chambers asked whether the CWG had considered recommending that the Board offer the International Baccalaureate in other parts of the region -- including areas beyond the old Carleton Board of Education boundaries. Morgan said there had been general discussion of elective programs that must be offered at the board-wide level in order to generate critical mass.

Trustee Lynn Graham recalled some initial concern when the CWGs were set up that Area A might be too large to be workable. Morgan said it was useful to work in a group that combined former CBE and OBE parents, noting that participants were able to reach consensus on the best overall proposal for the area.

Trustee Lynn Scott noted that Morgan had said little about Lisgar or Glebe Collegiate Institute, and asked whether the two schools receive a large influx of students from outside the planning area. Morgan said Lisgar attracts a large number of outside students, while Glebe runs a French Immersion gifted program. Scott asked whether the CWG had consulted the community that would be most affected by its proposed boundary change. Morgan said the community had some concern about being bounced from school to school.

Trustee Cynthia Bled asked Morgan how a board-wide elective could be made available outside a particular family of schools without open boundaries. Morgan said priority for an elective should go first to students in a school's catchment area; next to students in the family of schools; then to students across the region if space is available. If demand for a program continues to grow, he said the Board should consider offering it at additional sites. Bled asked whether the CWG had received feedback from parents on its proposal to phase out transportation costs. Morgan said the recommendation -- including the exceptions he had already cited -- received general support among CWG participants.

Trustee Patty Anne Hill noted that high school students sometimes register for a special program, switch schools, then drop out of the program a few months later without transferring back to their neighbourhood school. Morgan said the CWG had recommended repatriating students back to their original schools when the situation occurs.

Trustee Alex Getty concluded the session with an acknowledgement to CWG participants, staff, and facilitators. "Regardless of the approach taken by the different groups, we have a great deal of valued input from the communities across the Board," he said. He stressed that "careful and serious consideration will be given to all the inputs we've received."


We continue to receive comments and corrections in response to The CWG Report....including two real, live letters to the editor.

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

-- Anonymous, November 11, 1998

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