UCDSB facilities meeting ‘starting the conversation’ on community partnerships

UCDSB chair Jeff McMillan (center) responds to a question during the board’s community partnership meeting June 6th. (The Leader/Blancher photo)

CORNWALL – A meeting between the Upper Canada District School Board and area stakeholders was held June 6th in Cornwall

Representatives from most of the municipalities that make up the United Counties of Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry, and from the county itself attended, along with UCDSB staff, and members of the public. About 20 people, plus UCDSB staff were on hand at the meeting.

UCDSB superintendent of district alignment Phil Dawes presented the school use and occupancy lists for the eastern half of the board. Included were two of the three UCDSB schools in South Dundas, Morrisburg Public School and Seaway District High School. These schools were listed due to having more than 200 vacant student spaces, or a utilization rate of less than 60 per cent for two or more years.

Dawes told the group that in the past year, the board has received 15 expressions of interest for school use, but few made it past the initial stages.

“Most have been for archival or library projects,” he said.

He told the group that the board is looking for more than being an extra storage area for community partners. To that, Dawes presented three initiatives that fall into the new type of partnership the board is looking for: Seaway’s partnership with South Dundas, Ross Video and Code Heroes; North Dundas District High School’s shop program partnership, fabricating items like benches and bike racks for the Township of North Dundas; and South Edwardsburgh Public School’s community clean up partnership with Edwardsburgh-Cardinal’s parks and recreation in Johnstown and Cardinal.

Peter Bosch, manager of design and construction, gave the group an overview of the $25 million in capital projects planned for the board at schools this summer, as well as an update on the planned new high school in Cornwall and elementary school in Brockville. Two other projects, the expansion of North Grenville District High School and Roxmore Public School were highlighted.

This prompted a question from Steph Jaworski, a parent involved with Char-Lan District High School.

“Why wasn’t Williamstown Public School approved for a capital expansion when it is in need?”

That school has many portable classrooms on site, and now has its Grade 5 and 6 students using classrooms at Char-Lan.

“The ministry changed the guidelines for looking at space and capacity,” said Jeremy Hobbs, superintendent of human resources and operational services with the board. “Before, the ministry would look at capacity at neighbouring elementary schools if one needed a capacity upgrade. They changed that to look at capacity at neighbouring elementary and secondary schools.”

Hobbs said that the board continues to submit projects for funding from the province and that conditions for approving projects may change after the June 7th election.

“It could be a whole new world Friday morning,” he said referring the Ontario provincial election.

South Stormont deputy mayor Tammy Hart asked why all board trustees were not present at the meeting.

“These are the people who represent us,” Hart said.

Trustee board chairman Jeff McMillan was one of two trustees who were in attendance. He responded that he and vice-chair Caroll Carkner were retirees and were able to attend.

“Most of the trustees work during the day,” he said to Hart. “And quite frankly, they don’t need to be here as this meeting is between staff and stakeholders.”

Dawes continued to stress that the purpose of the meeting was to “start the conversation” between the stakeholders, a phrase that raised the ire of some in attendance.

“Start the conversation, we’re having it now,” said one attendee.

“We need to always be mindful that our first job is educating kids. Whatever we do, whatever partnerships there are, that must always be in mind,” McMillan went on to say to the group.

McMillan told The Leader after the meeting that one of the frustrating parts of any meetings like this is recognizing the differences between municipal and school board governance.

“In councils, they are more top down, giving direction to staff,” he said. “It’s not the same in a school board. Yes we vote, but staff has much more decision making power.”

McMillan added that unlike municipalities, school boards have less control over their planning.

“We run essentially year to year for planning based on needs and funding,” he said. “Municipalities have that ability to plan ahead five or even ten years, we don’t.”

The board held an additional meeting in Kemptville for UCDSB west related schools.