Students in Upper Canada District School Board brace for massive change, school closures
Joanne Schnurr, CTV Ottawa
Published Tuesday, September 27, 2016 5:37PM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, September 27, 2016 6:41PM EDT
Students in the Upper Canada School Board could be in for big changes following a report calling for 16 school closures. Trustees will discuss the report at a board meeting tomorrow night. The schools on the list are scattered across Eastern Ontario in the expansive Upper Canada School Board. This is the first time most parents are hearing about this report, entitled “Building for the Future: Pupil Accommodation Review”. Reaction was swift and furious.
Nestled in the tiny town of Oxford Mills, the little public K-6 school, Oxford-on-Rideau is much more than just a building for the parents whose kids attend it.
“This is like a family, like a community,” says parent Michelle Tasker, whose son is in Grade 6 at Oxford-on-Rideau, “there's no bullying because all the kids know each other. It's wonderful.”
But with a dwindling enrolment of about 88 students, it is on the list of 16 other schools that could close by the end of the school year.
“I’m sick about it, just sick,” says Gwenda Lemoine whose children and grandchildren attended the school. She now drives the school bus for the children, “It's wrong to close a community school.”
A staff report from the Upper Canada District School Board is recommending sweeping changes to address a drastic decline in enrolment that could see 16 schools close by June and another 13 on the chopping block if money comes through to renovate or rebuild others.
“We have almost 10,000 student spaces currently vacant in Upper Canada School Board,” says Stephen Sliwa, the Director of Education for the Board, “If we were to say average school is comprised of 300 students in an elementary setting, then that would be the equivalent of 33 elementary schools that are vacant.”
All school boards are going through this difficult exercise as enrolment numbers drop across Ontario, but the issue is especially pronounced in the rural areas.
Schools like Commonwealth Public School in Brockville could handle four times more students, says Sliwa, with a current enrolment of 120 students. Toniata Public School in Brockville has 350 students but Sliwa says the building requires far more investment than several other schools so the recommendation would be to close Toniata and send the students to Commonwealth, with the addition of a portable. Down the road, the hope is to rebuild Commonwealth or add an addition.
“It’s too bad for the parents who live in this neighbourhood and walk their kids to school,” says Lorraine Strong, “It seems to be that a lot of institutions, whether health or education, are just cutting things for the sake of cutting because it's an easier way to meet budgets.”
The recommendations, and they are just that at this point, would impact schools from Merrickville to Morrisburg and Carleton place to Cornwall.
“I don't want parents to go down that list and automatically assume that school with close,” says Jeff McMillan, the chair of the school board, “There is a lot to take place between now and six months from now when the board will make that final decision.”
Trustees will talk about this report at their board meeting Wednesday night in Brockville.
The board promises the public will have plenty of opportunity to talk about this as well before a final decision is made in March of 2017.