Trustee discusses UCDSB proposal

Upper Canada District School Board trustee Jeremy Armer’s support for the Building for the Future report is about the process, not the report.

“This is a starting point,” said Armer, Ward 7 trustee representing North and South Dundas. “I can guarentee you the end won’t look like this.”

The report, approved at the September 28th meeting, started the process for the possible closure of Morrisburg and Iroquois Public Schools, and Seaway District High School. Students from the two elemetary schools would be merged and housed in the former high school until a new school is built.

“I don’t agree with all of the cuts,” said Armer in an hour-long interview in The Leader newsroom. Armer covered a range of issues with the ARC process, the proposed closures and the public’s response so far.

“It would be very hard to see Seaway District High School closed. I feel very strongly about it.”

Armer explained that he received the 188-page proposal two days before the September 28th school board meeting.

The ‘Building for the Future’ report was written by the senior administration of the UCDSB using internal school statistics, along with outside data from Statistics Canada.

“There were no outside consultants hired for this,” said Armer.

Armer was one of nine trustees who voted to support entering into the ARC process at the September 28th meeting.

At the October 12th school board meeting, Armer was one of eight who voted against Ward 4 Trustee John McAllister’s motion to rescind the proposed plan.

“My support wasn’t for the content, but the [ARC] process,” said Armer.

The proposed plan sees all three UCDSB schools in South Dundas affected, while no changes have been proposed for schools in North Dundas. This is despite a difference in population between the two communities of less than 500 people.

Armer suggested that the North Dundas schools may have better programming and therefore not considered for the proposed plan.

“All three schools have immersion now, and there is late bussing.”

When asked what the tangible benefits were to closing Seaway DHS, there was a long pause before Armer answered that he hasn’t been told yet.

“Do I believe it?”

Armer suggested that six teachers from Seaway would relocate to North Dundas Distrct High School, and six would relocate to South Grenville District High School.

This would provide more teachers in those high schools to be able to offer more classes and support to students. It would also help with scheduling to aliviate some split classes that occur now.

The actual numbers for the split of students from Seaway are not listed in the board’s proposal. The report does not include any enrolment projections for the North Dundas group of schools if the proposed plan moves forward. The only acknowledgement of the affect of student population from Seaway on the South Grenville DHS is a 23% increase in Grades 7-12 students in the 2019-20 school year.  No other projections were released in the report.

“Is it better? If everything is going to stay the same, why sacrifice a school,” asked Armer.

When asked about whether North Dundas schools should be considered in the ARC process to save schools in South Dundas, Armer was non-committal.

Asked if the board owes an explanation to the parents and students of the benefits of the proposed proposed plan, Armer said, “Balancing those benefits and moving schools. Is it enough to close a school? Yes we owe it.”

Since the proposed plan was posted online, parents in South Dundas have been mobilizing in an attempt to save all three schools. When asked what parents can do, Armer stated that groups need to be organized, be involved and follow the ARC process as it is laid out.

The proposed plan states in each projection where there are “co-terminous” school options in a community, but does not project how many students would change boards. Armer acknowledged that there are options other than the UCDSB.

“All of the schools have the same curriculum. Are we going to lose students? Yes.”

Armer went on to state that the UCDSB does a good job at attracting new students, citing the construction of a new school in Cornwall and one under construction in a growing area of Kemptville.

“We are going to be better at serving our students,” said Armer.

The process began with changes initiated by the Ontario Ministry of Education that eliminates funding for unused spaces in the province over three years. 2016-17 is the first school year of that phase-in period.

“We’ve lobbied the government,” said Armer when asked about dealing with the provincial funding issue over cutting schools.
“Funding changes with every [provincial] budget.”

Since 2013, the provincial government has pushed for building new schools or expanding schools in higher populated areas of the province at a cost of over $2 billion.

Armer explained that he felt it is better to work together in addressing funding with the province than become a militant school board.

“Rather than pick the battles when we can,” Armer said.

The province announced a plan on October 24th to build 28 new schools and renovate 23 existing schools. None of the schools in the UCDSB are listed in the government press release.

The school board’s proposals for consolidating the Seaway group of schools along with other schools all have the intent on building new schools, dependent on provincial funding.

“We have a good relationship with the [current] government,” explained Armer.

He did not feel that there would be issues in being granted funding, citing the board’s previous successes in Cornwall and Kemptville.

The ARC process concludes with the final public meeting on January 31st, 2017 at North Dundas District High School. The final staff report will be presented to a special meeting of the board on February 15th, 2017 with the board’s final decision on March 23rd, 2017.

Asked if he would support the final report if the plan continues to recommend the closure of Seaway DHS, Armer responded asking if the final plan would be in the best interests of students.

“It is what trustees have to balance. If the plan, long term has better student success, then yes.”

Armer was acclaimed in 2014 as Ward 7 trustee. Armer lives in South Mountain with his wife and four children, and works in the banking industry. He cites encouragement from then outgoing trustee Greg Pietersma and his involvement in Nationview Public School parent council as his reasons for running for trustee.

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