Officials unhappy with joint school board Community Planning Partnership

Trio of municipal officials speak out about concerns over lack of local input.

Morrisburg Public School is listed in the joint UCDSB/CDSBEO Community Partnership and Planning information as one of 23 UCDSB schools with less than 60 per cent occupancy, or have had more than 200 vacant student seats for more than two years. According to the board, the school has a capacity of 305 students, and 154 surplus spaces. (The Leader/Blancher photo)

SDG – A recent joint meeting by the local English-language school boards and municipal officials has raised concerns about enrollment numbers and community use of schools.

The Community Planning Partnership meeting, held virtually July 23rd by the Upper Canada District School Board and Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario, shared with municipalities a snapshot of what space is available in local schools, what enrollment numbers were, in an effort to get more community use of school buildings after school hours.
School boards are required to hold these meetings and this is the second year that the two local English-language boards have hosted a joint meeting.

Some municipal officials were unhappy with the meeting however.

“This is not a partnership, it is an opportunity for the school boards to check a box,” said South Dundas deputy mayor Kirsten Gardner.
She said that many of the statistics presented were about population and declining enrollment numbers, focusing on schools with a high capacity of empty seats.

“Missing is the information that speaks to the school-by-school data on how, and at what percentage, the community/business (daycares) and other partners use the schools,” she said. “Honestly the meeting could be classified as something that could have been handled in an email.”

The meeting presented information about schools that are used at 60 per cent or less capacity, or have more than 200 vacant spaces in the past two years. This with the hope of adding more community use in the vacant space.

The CDSBEO has three schools that meet the criteria: Iona Academy in Williamstown, St. Finnan’s in Alexandria, and St. Francis Xavier in Brockville. In contrast, the UCDSB has 23 schools that meet that criteria including: Seaway District High School in Iroquois, Morrisburg Public School, Rothwell-Osnabruck Elementary School in Ingleside, and Glengarry District High School in Alexandria.

“Sadly, the annual CPP information meeting left me with a long list of unanswered questions,” said South Stormont councillor Jennifer MacIsaac. “I was quite disappointed that there was barely ten minutes allotted for questions. This annual meeting could be a good opportunity for school boards to exchange information with municipalities, however,the dialogue has to be able to flow both ways.”

MacIsaac added that residents have many concerns about what school will look like this fall.

“Municipal staff and councils could be in a position to make suggestions on how to collaborate and assist in creating a plan that would work best for their communities.”

She said that no opportunity was given for that dialogue.

South Glengarry councillor Stephanie Jaworski echoed MacIsaac and Gardner’s concerns.

“I ran for council because I felt very strongly that municipalities could play a stronger role in advocating for the importance of local schools,” said Jaworski, who is also South Glengarry’s representative to the Community Schools Alliance, a province-wide municipal advocacy group. “The issue of municipalities and school boards collaborating is very near and dear to my heart.”

She said it was a positive that the two boards were hosting a joint meeting as they cover the same geographic area.

“I do still wish there was more ongoing dialogue between municipalities and the school boards, not just this fulfillment of the annual requirement,” Jaworski said.

She added that the most recent meeting covered the entire region which included 35 municipalities and cities combined.

“At a municipal level we would like to see detailed information to the School Information Profiles in our areas,” explained Jaworski. “I think these meetings should be done for smaller geographies like just SDG.”

All three officials said that with the recent accommodation review processes taken by both boards in 2016-17, municipalities need more information from school boards.

“Many felt completely taken by surprise by the original closure proposals,” Jaworski said. “I think there is still that uneasiness and worry that could be alleviated with ongoing dialogue.”
Gardner said that only one person was able to ask a question at the meeting. That question, by Jaworski about the impact of COVID-19 plans, was unanswered by school officials because it was not part of the CPP discussion.

“I think many municipalities and community groups want to support getting kids back to school in September safely, and have space that could be used for cohorting,” Jaworski said. “These are the types of things that should be discussed at a CPP-type setting and be an excellent example of how municipalities and school boards might work together closer.”

“As far as a partnership, this falls horribly short,” Gardner said.

Outlined in the CPP presentation to municipalities is a recent snapshot of school occupancy and enrollment numbers.

Overall enrollment at UCDSB schools is stable, and CDSBEO is projecting a one per cent increase in the 2020-21 school year.

Long-term projections show the UCDSB estimating an increase from 2019 enrollment of 26,343 students to 26,595 students in 2025, before dropping to 26,518 students in 2030. The CDSBEO projects that its enrollment of 13,144 in 2019 will increase by nearly 1,000 students in 2025 to 14,112. A further increase by that board will see an estimated enrollment of 14,976 students by 2030.
Surplus spaces in the boards are expected to decrease due to increased enrollment at the CDSBEO, or through decreased school capacity at the UCDSB.

Through school renewal projects and consolidation projects like the combination of North Stormont Public School into Roxmore Public School in Avonmore, and the construction of a new centralized Grade 7-12 school in Cornwall, over 1,000 surplus spaces will be shed by the UCDSB. By 2025, the board estimates it will have 7,501 surplus spaces.

*Editor’s Note* The version of this story in the July 29th print edition of The Leader lists Char-Lan District High School in Williamstown as being on the CPP list of schools under capacity. In fact, that school was not on the list, Glengarry District High School in Alexandria is. The Leader regrets the error.

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