Hard questions and soft answers were served up at a Board of Education meeting .

highschoolsBy Pepper Parr

April 27, 2017



It was a meeting that ended with the Chair directing the trustees to rise and leave the room.

A member of the public had stood up and called out a question – he was told questions were not being taken. Georg Ward, the man who wanted to ask the question isn’t a man to be shut down easily. We will come back to what George Ward wanted to know.

Stuart Miller, Director of Education sat in front of the trustees, not amongst them this time. He was there, along with Scott Podrebarac, Superintendent, and Dom Renzella Manager Planning, to answer questions the trustees had about the recommendation given them the previous Friday to close two schools and transfer most of the programs at Bateman high school to neighbouring Nelson high school that is less than 2 km to the west.

Kelly Amos, chair of the school board was not in attendance.

Collard - direct into camera

Ward 5 school board trustee Amy Collard

Miller was soundly grilled, for the most part by trustee Amy Collard whose ward the school to be closed is located in. She told the audience in a pretty well packed public gallery that it was going to cost $12 million to replicate what already exists.

Miller’s position was that the issue wasn’t the condition of the school nor the costs involved but that future enrollment was just not going to make the school viable.

There is an International Baccalaureate program at Bateman high school that will be transferred to Central high school, some 6.5 km to the west that was in the first recommendation given to the trustees.

Miller stumbled a number of times in explaining to the trustees why the Board staff made the recommendation they did.

The set up in the Board room where the meetings take place is such that those testifying, and that was what Miller and his colleagues were doing, face the trustees and not the public gallery. The Gazette chose not to attend the actual meeting but to watch the event via the live web cast where the facial expressions and body language of those testifying could be clearly seen.

We were able to note as well that there were never more than 40 people watching the web cast.
Trustee Collard put forward a number of very stiff questions and made it clear that she wasn’t buying most of the arguments Miller had in his report. What wasn’t at all clear was if Collard had the support of enough of the other 10 trustees to result in a decision to keep the school open.

PARC with options on the walls

PARC in session.

When the trustees announced last October that they were going to accept the Board Staff recommendation to hold a Program Accommodation Review (PAR) and create a committee ( a PARC – Program Accommodation Review committee) to look at all the issues related to the Board staff recommendation that Central High school and Lester B. Pearson high school be closed.

The PARC was given a list of 19 possible options to solve the problem of the 1800 empty seats. The closing Central and Pearson option stood during the first few of the seven meetings the PARC held but as different ideas came forward closing Bateman and Nelson were placed on the table.

PAR HDSB Parents at Bateman

First public meeting at which Board of Education explained the PAR process at every high school was very poorly attended at Bateman high school

Up until that point Bateman high school parents weren’t concerned about being closed.
The Central parents were exceptionally active from the first meeting and held rallies, a fund raiser that put $14,000 into a fund the pay for signs and other costs.  Bateman had a lot of caching up to do.
Many felt that having city ward Councillor Marianne Meed Ward representing Central high school on the PARC made the difference for that school.
Our observation was that while Meed Ward certainly wasn’t her usually very much in your face city councillor she was quite a bit quieter at the PARC. Central had a very strong case and they were very good at getting that case in front of anyone with ears.
Central, the oldest high school in the city has gone through having to deal with a possible closure twice in the past. They knew how to organize and make their case.
The PAR process was such that communities found themselves fighting against each other to not be closed.

The process however did bring to the surface data that left a lot to be desired. The PARC was made up of two parent representatives from each of the seven high schools in the city. These people found that much of the data they were being given was suspect and Board staff kept having to make revisions, sometimes on the fly.
There were a total of more than 40 different closure options considered by the PARC, one of which was to not close any schools. That option didn’t get a lot of attention during the questions asked last night.

The problem the school board staff faced was that there are 1800 empty high school seat in Burlington. And that wasn’t a situation that was sustainable – board staff believed that high schools had to be closed.

Protesters PARC

Central parents protested whenever and wherever they could.

Central made the case that closing their school would mean there would be no high school in the core of the city and $400,000 a year would have to be spent to bus students.

In 2013 the Halton District School Board opened a new high school in north Burlington and named it the Dr. Frank Hayden high school.
Many wondered why that decision was made to open a new school was made. It resulted in students being pulled from other high schools which lowered the student enrollment creating the problem of lower enrollments and resulting in the decision to close schools south of the QEW.
Hayden high school is part of a complex that includes a recreational centre and a public library and is very popular.

No more desks set out in neat rows. The classroom furniture is now such that students can sit by themselves or in groups of two or three - up to eight. The objective was to create situations where the students learn to work as groups and to collaborate on a problem - question or assignment.

The real issue is the empty seats – there are 1800 0f them and that is a situation the Board stall tell the 11 trustees is not sustainable.

Lester B. Pearson didn’t get all that much in the way of discussion during the three hour meeting.

The Gazette will publish additional material later in the day.

Parents now get to delegate to the trustees on May 8th and 11th. There are strong emotions and strong cases being made against closing Pearson and Central.

There are also those 1800 empty seats and a demography that suggests they may not be filled in the near future.

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1 comment to Hard questions and soft answers were served up at a Board of Education meeting .

  • Stephen White

    This PARC review process is highly suspect, to say the least.

    First, it was Central and Pearson that were slated to closed. Then Councillor Meed Ward suddenly ends up on the PARC committee and all of a sudden attention is diverted away from Central to closing Nelson and Bateman. Nelson parents lobby, but Bateman parents lobby least effectively perhaps, and then all of a sudden Bateman is on the chopping block. And throughout this process no one manages to successfully explain: 1) why was Hayden built in the first place if all it did was compound the supply problem of too many schools; and 2) why was option 7b (i.e. no school closures) not given due consideration? The other question might also be: why did Councillor Meed Ward not support Councillor Sharman’s proposal at a recent Council meeting criticizing the PARC review process?

    I’m not sure whether we need a city-wide ratepayers’ association in Burlington or perhaps even a local political party. One thing is for certain: a process like PARC hat pits schools against schools, taxpayers against taxpayers, and where legitimate questions raised by people like Tom Muir and others are marginalized or ignored, isn’t helpful.