Tim Mills, superintendent of education for the Upper Canada District School Board says the accommodation review process is a ‘team approach’ to deal with the 10,000 vacant student spaces throughout the school board.
“It’s not an easy process,” said Mills in a sit-down interview with The Leader at the General Vanier board facility in Cornwall.
Mills explained that the draft report had input from senior staff, managers and from an outside consultant.
“The ARC (Accommodation Review Committee) is only part of an ongoing review process,” explained Mills.
He elaborated that program surveys, facility use reviews and the UCDSB Program Review that was completed in the spring of 2016 all provided data that led up to staff’s draft report.
When asked what was the community involvement from South Dundas residents in other processes, Mills indicated there was not a lot of feedback to previous processes in the community.
The proposed Swank housing development west of Morrisburg may not have been considered in previous information provided to the board.
“We have been told about this now, but I don’t know if we knew about it before,” said Mills.
“We have heard about it at the ARC working meeting Monday and in feedback we’ve received in the community.”
The impact of the Swank development would increase the population in South Dundas long term.
“We don’t know that all of those houses would have kids who would attend UCDSB schools.”
Mills stated that prior feedback received indicated families wanted more high school course availability, end triple-grading in certain elementary schools and have more options for extracurriculars.
“Now we’re in this process and we hear ‘keep the schools as they are’,” said Mills.
The UCDSB draft proposal would close Seaway District High School sending students to Prescott and North Dundas. Mills indicated there were a number of considerations including geography, feedback from previous review processes, transportation and the number of empty classrooms. Those factors led to the recommendation of Option 5 for the Seaway group of schools.
“So far we have received over 2300 responses to the online survey, hundreds of emails, and feedback from municipalities,” said Mills.
Competition from other school boards have been a factor in the process.
“We recognize there are four boards in the region,” Mills said.
“It is definitely a concern if students leave the board. We want all students who want an English-public education to be at an UCDSB school.”
Mills told The Leader that there will be an update released by early next week covering three topics: Frequently asked questions about the ARC process; clarification of some data, projections and statistics published in the draft; and additional information or ‘errata’ that was not in the initial draft report.
Asked about the Seaway student split and projections on the South Grenville and North Dundas school populations, Mills indicated the update would answer some of those concerns.
According to the Ministry of Education’s Pupil Accommodation Review process guidelines, the affects of incoming student populations on existing schools need to be projected in any accommodation review process. The numbers were not factored in the South Grenville portion of the report; North Dundas was not featured in the report at all.
The draft report does not indicate what benefits there would be for Seaway students at the new schools. Mills responded that the consolidated schools with have benefits both during school hours with being able to offer more school course selection, and after school for extracurricular activities.
“There are concerns, we’re hearing this. About transportation; how big a school is; is it too big? This is what the ARC process is for,” said Mills.
“We’ll take all of that into account. I will write the report and we take it to the ARC members, get feedback from the staff and then put it into the final report.”
Asked how small of a school is too small, Mills answered that “we’re going to find that out in this process.”
Some parents and groups in South Dundas have expressed concerns about the ARC process and whether their concerns are being heard or are a factor in the final decision making process.
“They are,” said Mills. “I read everything, we’re talking to the ARC members. They [ARC members] are the conduit for getting information to us.”
“Getting 100 individual emails isn’t the same as 100 people speaking together as a group in one direction,” said Mills.
There will be a ARC meeting at Seaway District High School on November 17th, individuals or delegations wishing to speak at the meeting must register online with the UCDSB by November 12th.