Board moves accommodation review forward

The draft document that shocked the community became the plan of action last week when the Upper Canada District School Board approved the launch of the pupil accommodation review process.

Calling it Building for the Future, the report gained majority approval with the board of trustees at its September 28th meeting.
In the 8-2 vote, only trustees Wendy MacPherson and Lisa Swan opposed the vote to start the process.

The report details draft recommendations for potential school closures to consolidate space in order for the board to develop a capital priorities plan.

South Dundas is heavily impacted by the recommendations that could see Seaway District High School closed at the end of the school year.

Under the proposal, this school year will also be the last for Morrisburg Public School. Next school year, it would be consolidated with Iroquois Public and the consolidated group would move to the Seaway District High School building.

The students, grades 7-12, would end up going to either South Grenville or North Dundas High Schools, depending on whether they live north or south of Highway 401.

Rothwell Osnabruck would lose its high school students to CCVS in Cornwall, but gain JK-6 students from Longue Sault.

The board meeting, which was not available for online viewing the evening of the actual meeting due to technical difficulties, was recorded and later made available on the website.

At the meeting, after playing a video of the new Bridgewood Public School in Cornwall to “show what is possible,” superintendent Jeremy Hobbs spoke about the capital priorities process. He said that the choices laid out in the plan were based on what the board sees as its best chance at optimizing new construction.

Among the best candidates for new schools is one high school – Cornwall High School.   

Before the vote, chair Jeff McMillan said, “This is not about headlines or social media postings. It’s not about chopping schools and destroying communities. It’s about building a vision for what the future of education needs to look like as we move forward over the next 10 to 15 years.”

He said that all school boards are in this position because of how funding works.

Director of education Stephen Sliwa said that the intent of this process is to bring options forward as the board works to manage finite resources as demographics shift.

“We need to get on with it,” said trustee Donald Cram, as the floor was opened to comments from the trustees.

Trustee Lisa Swan said, “we’re moving far too fast with this.” She suggested that no schools close in 2017.

Trustee Wendy MacPherson said that had she known what was going to happen, she would have asked for more meetings.

“It is incumbent on us to move forward with this,” said trustee David MacDonald “If we delay this, we are just delaying the inevitable.”

“We need to look out for our communities as well,” said local trustee Jeremy Armer.

He relayed the concern from a recent meeting with the SDHS community that their voice is going to get lost in the process.

“We owe it to our communities to make sure their voices are heard,” said Armer.

Veteran trustee William MacPherson supported the process to move forward, but did acknowledge that there is a very real human cost to the decisions the board will make.

Currently, the board is faced with nearly 10,000 unused spaces across the district; the equivalent to 33 empty elementary schools.

The reaction to the vote to proceed with the process was immediate in affected schools, on social media and throughout the community.

This week information about the formation of the Accomodation Review Committees will be made public. The ARCs will meet for the first time October 20th at Tagwi. That meeting, according to McMillan, is for ARC members only. The Dundas County schools’ two public meetings are slated for November 14th and January 23rd at General Vanier in Cornwall.

UCDSB’s final decision proposal will be made March 23.

A special e-mail account has been created to collect feedback during the discussion:

Feedback can also be directed to school trustees.

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