Lisa Bull implored the Director o Education to look at all the options.

highschoolsBy Pepper Parr

April 24th, 2017



Is there anything a parent can say that will change minds?

The democratic process we celebrate on both Canada Day and Remembrance Day doesn’t always get reflected when citizens go to the polls to select their city Councillors and school board trustees – expect to see a much bigger turnout in 2018 – we hope? Vainly? We hope not.

PARC with options on the walls

The 14 members of the PARC and the several advisors took part in seven meetings.

There were some very talented people serving their communities on the PARC that met for seven meetings.
These people got nothing for their efforts – the Board did provide coffee and donuts. The parents brought in treats for each other including small bottles of wine to celebrate the work they did – not always as a team pulling in the same direction – there were parents who pulled for their schools and at times some of the language was less than civil. That’s what happens when emotions are aroused.

Lisa Bull was on the PARC representing Bateman high school. She earned a Masters of Education degree and chose to work in the private sector. The PARC experience for her was more frustrating than anything else. She felt that there was a solution that would serve the needs of not only Bateman but if the wider community as well.

Bateman student population

Student population numbers for Bateman high school prepared by the Board of Education.

Several days before the Director of Education released his final recommendation Lisa Bull wrote Stuart Miller with what was a reasonable request.

Her letter was signed by

Lisa Bull, PAR Parent Rep, Robert Bateman High School                                             

 Steve Armstrong, PAR Parent Rep, Lester B. Pearson High School

Sharon Rhys-Jones Picken, PAR Parent Rep,  Robert Bateman High School  

Rebecca Collier, PAR Parent Rep, Nelson High School   

Cheryl Delugt, PAR Parent Rep,   Lester B. Pearson High School   

Steve Cussons, PAR Parent Rep, Aldershot High School.

Kate Nazar, PAR Parent Rep, Nelson High School                        

Here is what they had to say:

As former members of the Burlington Secondary Program Accommodation Review Committee, we are writing to express our strong concerns about the decision to move forward with high school closures in Burlington. We realize that you are just days away from releasing your report to your Board of Trustees, however we are making one last request that you recommend to the Board that that they defer any closures as we do not believe that the Halton District School Board has fully and completely explored all non-school closure options. It is the responsibility of the HDSB to do whatever it takes to keep all high schools open in Burlington and we have not, to-date seen concrete evidence that all avenues have been thoroughly and exhaustively explored.

Hard working people PARC

The PARC members put in a lot of time on behalf of the community.

Throughout the PAR process, our Committee was guided to review Options for school closures designed to address the low utilization rates of the high schools in Burlington. We participated in six Committee meeting, multiple public meetings and, except for when a Committee member raised the Option of keeping all schools opened, the possibility of exploring alternate strategies for solving the HDSB’s utilization and programming challenges were not raised. In fact, it wasn’t until the Committee requested a seventh meeting that our group began to explore and recommend non-closure Options. Why did it take us so long to get this this point? Simply put – the challenge presented to the PAR Committee was framed as ‘which schools should be closed’. We were never challenged to explore alternative solutions.

As detailed in the Preamble of the Ministry of Education’s Pupil Accommodation Review Guideline (2015) ‘when a school board identifies a school that is projected to have long-term excess space, a school board would typically look at a number of options such as:

– Moving attendance boundaries and programs to balance enrolment between over and underutilized schools;

– Offering to lease underutilized space within a school to a coterminous school board;

– Finding community partners who can pay the full cost of operating the underutilized space; and/or

– Decommissioning or demolishing a section of the school that is not required for student use to reduce operating costs

Again, other than reviewing attendance boundaries and programs, none of the other options as detailed above was raised in any meaningful way with the PAR Committee. When the Committee raised a number of the above strategies in our final meeting, we were told that some had been explored by the HDSB but with all due respect, the efforts presented seemed limited at best.

In addition, in a letter dated March 6, 2017 Minister of Education Mitzie Hunter and Minister of Infrastructure Bob Chiarelli outlined how the provincial government is calling upon school boards to find solutions that meet ‘both local needs and the educational needs of Ontario’s students’.

Minister Hunter states that ‘communities and the Province expect Ontario’s four school systems to maximize the opportunities of co-locations’ and that ‘It is our government’s strong preference that school boards fully explore joint accommodation arrangements with coterminous boards’. Further, ‘…the Ministry states a preference for these joint-use projects committing to review these proposals before any others.’ In addition, the Ministry has committed $600,000 to assist school boards in pursuing joint-use school opportunities between school boards.

Why was this Option not fully and completely explored by the Halton District School Board? Given the Minister’s strong preference for this approach and the available funding, the PAR Committee and the community of Burlington should have been presented with evidence that both the public and Catholic boards have completely explored all possibilities for partnership. We were not.

Ministers Hunter and Chiarelli also remind school boards that according to The Ministry of Education Community and Partnerships Guideline, boards are meant to host at least one meeting annually to engage the broader community and relevant stakeholders. “It is imperative that these meetings involve all relevant stakeholders and facilitate real dialogue boards and the involved communities”. Further the Guideline states that “to be effective, these meetings require community engagement and attendance and a spirit of real partnership from all parties”.

As community members, we saw no advertising alerting us of any HDSB partnership meetings. I gather that some community agencies were invited to attend (if they asked to be on a contact list) but what of the broader community? What of partners outside of Burlington? What of “regular” citizens who might be interested in volunteering to bring their expertise and contacts to such an opportunity? Most members of the PAR Committee expressed an interest and a willingness to work with the HDSB to identify, recruit and work with agencies and organizations to build lasting partnerships which could impact both utilization of space and enhance student programming.

Pubmeet politicians BL-JT-PS

The politicians were certainly interested – three from Burlington city council attended one of the public meetings. The Mayor was not seen at any of the meetings.

Further, we were extremely surprised when, during our final PAR Committee meeting (which was not scheduled, but rather strongly requested by the members of the Committee) that the Manager of the City of Burlington, James Ridge requested that he (on behalf of the City) be given first notice regarding available space within schools. Did the HDSB not work with the City to explore all possible partnership and joint-use opportunities prior to the PAR process? Why has the HDSB not been working more closely with the City prior to the secondary school PAR?

We’ve also been disappointed that, despite the expectation ( as outlined in updates to the 2015 Pupil Accommodation Review Guideline) that municipalities and community partners impacted by PARs are engaged in meaningful ways and that ‘full input and feedback from the municipalities, including local economic and community impacts where relevant are reflected in the final staff report and advice to trustees” the City of Burlington’s involvement in the PAR process appears to have been limited to having Mr. Ridge serve on the PAR Committee. As a PAR Committee member I was provided with no information on behalf of the City about the economic and community impact of school closures on our neighbourhoods. Again – should this not have been information that was thoroughly explored and shared with the PARC prior to us making our final recommendations?

Finally, Ministers Hunter and Chiarelli have outlined how the government has been considering how they ‘can use public property in a manner that takes into account the best interests of local communities’. To that end, the government is exploring the concept of community hubs – ‘a school, a neighbourhood centre or other public space that offers co-ordinated services such as education, early years support, health care and social services’ – and is encouraging school boards to work with communities to explore this option. Further, the government is supporting these kinds of initiatives financially by offering funding such as Capital Funding for Community Hub School Retrofits ($50 million).

In her March 6th letter, Ministers Hunter and Chiarello acknowledge the challenges of forming community partnerships quickly/easily and offers boards who are exploring the option of a Community Hub with a school involved in an accommodation review to advise the Ministry of Education’s Capital Policy and Programs Branch and the Ministry of Infrastructure’s Community Hubs Division prior to May 1st.

Centennial pool - outside

City and school board work together on the operation of a swimming pool.

We strongly believe that this is an option which deserves consideration in Burlington. Robert Bateman which has an existing partnership with a city pool facility, a YMCA daycare facility, a broad range of technical and trade facilities, and which is located in a community without a community centre already serves as a community hub for seniors’ groups, families, community organizations and more. Lester B Pearson High School has been partnering with the Pearson Co-op Nursery School for over 40 years. This partnership offers a Dual Credit ECE Program with Mohawk College and a Health and Wellness SHSM: Family and Child Services pathway for Pearson students. Programs such as these could be expanded and enhanced and would address multiple opportunities for these schools and communities.

Robert Bateman

Robert Bateman isn’t the least bit impressed with the idea of closing a school with his name on it.

In closing, we recognize that you and your team are facing an extremely difficult situation. We recognize that you and the Board do not take your responsibility to the students and families of Burlington lightly. That’s why we implore you to take a stand as the leader of the HDSB and recommend that the Board of Trustees halt this process until comprehensive work and more thorough exploration can be conducted.

Lisa Bull reports that she “got no response from” Miller.

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6 comments to Lisa Bull implored the Director o Education to look at all the options.

  • Steve Atkinson

    The disturbing and recurring theme throughout this “democratic” process by HDSB is that we have not received answers to any of the questions raised. It seems the public is a nuisance to be avoided at all cost. The Ombudsman is about the only public servant I have not written to, but am working on it. Thank you to Pepper, Tom and George and so many others mentioned above for your involvement and informed concern for our community.

  • Stephen White

    When one person tells you that the conclusion reached is unreasonable it may be possible to dismiss their concerns out of hand. However, when several informed writers like Lisa, Rory Nisan and Tom Muir demonstrate conclusively through detailed analysis and review that both the conclusions and the rationale for the decision are seriously flawed then their arguments are, at a minimum, deserving of serious review.

    This entire PARC process has been an impetuous rush to judgement. Having read the authors’ separate analyses many questions need to be addressed by Stuart Miller, Board of Education officials, and school trustees. One which I would like answered is: if demographic trends and long-term projections showed that school population levels were declining over time what was the justification earlier for building Hayden High School? The second question I’d like answered is: The Premier clearly stated that Board of Educations should look for options to school closures. If you can adjust school boundaries to re-distribute and equalize student populations without closing schools why not do so?

    And the third question, which no one unfortunately seems to have an answer to, is: where is our MPP Eleanor McMahon throughout this debate?

  • Tom Muir

    I agree with Deb – a great job from people who were on the inside of this PAR. So they know the truth.

    Miller and his Board staff gave me no response either, despite several requests.

    They did what they wanted.

    We must press on for what we want.

  • George Ward

    Thank you for exposing the management style of Halton Director of Education Mr. Miller. It appears alternatives to high school closing were not considered by Director Miller.

    Suggestion # 1

    Consider this alternatives: In the HDSB recently published minutes from the last meeting item M16-0133 states “Be it resolved that the Halton District School Board appoint the architectural firm of Hossack and Associates Architects Inc. to prepare the design and tender documents for the proposed new secondary school, SRA 104 (Milton SW #1 HS) to be built in Milton area for September 2019.”

    Why is the HDSB considering the expense of building a school in southwest Milton yet closing schools in Burlington. Why not bus the Milton Southwest students to Dr. F.J. Hayden and realign the school boundaries of Burlington.

    Suggestion # 2

    Why not invest in the upgrading forecasting skills and processes of the HDSB Trustees who are required to prepare a 10 year forecast with yearly updates regarding student population and growth? Dr. F.J. Hayden was opened in September 2013 and only 3 years later (summer 2016) the HDSB Director and Trustees enacted a PAR group to study closing 2 Burlington High Schools i.e. LB Pearson and Central and on April 21, 2017 the Director of Education Mr. Miller issues a report recommending closing LB Pearson and Robert Bateman HS.

    What is wrong with the forecasting process that cannot predict 3 years in advance?
    a.) Why are the forecasts so inaccurate that millions are spent to build Dr. F.J. Hayden with recommendations to close two other high schools 3 1/2 years later?
    b.) Are the forecasters that incompetent?
    c.) What political reasons are behind the current bad decisions being made by the HDSB Director and Trustees? The Ontario Ministry of Education has not mandated school closures.

    Suggestion # 3

    “Best for the Community” as requested by the Ontario Ministry of Education is to not close Burlington high schools but to again explore the options of rebalancing of school boundaries, redefining catchment areas, and equitable distribution of feeder schools to level out enrollment in Burlington high schools. Then secondly review the HDSB processes to provide improvement for the future.

    Suggestion # 4

    In the meantime the only intelligent decision the director and trustees can make to satisfy all Burlington parents, taxpayers, students, voters and interested parties is to “Save All High Schools”

    • Tom Muir


      Great job and on the money. Same things I and others have been asking about, but we only got no response and closures.

      BUT, you HAVE TO send this to the Trustees and to Miller.

      Pepper and the rest of us can’t make any of this happen.

      Thanks for the great ideas, but take them the next step, please.

  • Deb

    Fantastic job Lisa! You all have done a fantastic idea coming up with ideas and options to find a solution that does not requiring the closure of schools. How about the option of closing the j.w singleton board office? The board could sell that land and could move into one of the under utilized schools such as Bateman or Pearson? Thus allowing the school to remain open to serve the boards most precious commodity…our children. I see no reason why sharing space could not work in this situation? Even split the board offices in half and house a few programs in the Bateman building and a few in the Pearson building. This would allow the students to remain.