Part 1 - the high school capacity problem is one we created. Trustees failed their constituents and the Board of Education staff was either asleep at the switch or incompetent.

backgrounder 100By Tom Muir

January 16th, 2017



Tom Muir, an Aldershot resident, has been an active participant in civic affairs. Our colleague, Joan Little described Muir as “acerbic”, a fair term for Tom.

He has outlined, in considerable length, a large part of why the parents at Central and Pearson high schools are in the mess they are in as a result of the recommendation to close their schools.

There is a lot of material; it gets  dense at times.  Living in a democracy mans you have to accept the responsibility of citizenship and stay informed.  This is a multi part story.

1. How was this problem created and why is it a mess?

Everyone needs to appreciate that there is a lot of Long Term Accommodation Plans (LTAP) and other reports and information on the Board website, but knowing how to find them, and have the time to read and comprehend it all, are daunting for people not used to this kind of analysis. And if they have both jobs along with their kids and home responsibilities, this just gets much worse.

The Board writes these long LTAP reports but the trustees I think seem to be snowed under by them, over time. There are plenty of warnings and facts presented about what is going on, but somehow it doesn’t fizz on them, and parents and residents are not given any warning of what lies ahead on the path the Board is on.  That’s the case I found here, and it’s not hard to find if you know how to look and take the time.

One thing that is missing on the accessible website are enough years of the LTAPs and reports to go back to the time that Hayden SS in Alton was being rationalized and justified and a new SRA 101 was created..

SRA 101 as at 2015

This Secondary Review Area contains one school. Dr. Frank J. Hayden SS opened with grades 9 and 10 in September 2013, and grew one grade each year. Enrolment currently exceeds OTG capacity, resulting in the placement of 6 portables on site. A high percentage (30%+) of grade 8 students from Orchard Park PS and Alexander’s PS enrolled in a secondary school other than Dr. Frank Hayden SS in 2015. More than 90% of grade eight students from the following elementary schools attend Dr. Frank J. Hayden SS: Charles R. Beaudoin PS FI program, John William Boich PS FI program Alton Village PS Dr. Frank J. Hayden SS is projected to be over-utilized. Enrolment is approaching Total Capacity by 2016. Boundaries may need to be re-evaluated as part of a future Program and Accommodation Review. To Be Determined Area, students are projected in this area within the next five years. Consideration should be given to establishing school catchments for this area as development approvals move forward.

Data is avalable for as far back as 2010-2011 where toy can already see the troubles looming. But there is no hint of how Hayden was justified on pupil place needs – there weren’t any – when it was already known that building the school would drain all the students from the existing high schools and create large and growing surplus places there, while overfilling Hayden, even with Portables, right from the start.

SRA 100 as at 2015

Secondary Review area 100 shows the high schools south of the QEW where the population was concentrated. The creation of the Halton community when the 407 highway was built suggested the need for an additional high school.

For example, in 2010-2011 LTAP report, we see the following.

The Board data for 2010 indicates there were 495 actual empty seats, and 92% space utilization, in the 6 then existing schools in Burlington. There was obviously no problem with surplus places and the trends stayed in a 90 to 80% bracket to 2020.

With the projected opening of the Alton school, the transfer of students from the other schools to the Alton school began, and the steep increase in available places in the existing 6 Burlington schools began.

From the 2010-2011 LTAP commentary:

– New subdivision development in SRA 101 contributes to the high utilization of Lester B. Pearson H.S., M.M. Robinson H.S., Nelson H.S. and Robert Bateman HS

– Opening of the proposed Alton community high school (2011) will cause enrollment to drop in most schools.

– A boundary review for the proposed Alton community high school has been initiated.

– There is potential for a PARC (Program and Accommodation Review Committee) Process to be initiated.

The plans were to build another school in Alton – add 1200 seats plus about 280 in portables.

The Board set out to build the new high school and decided to make it both a public library, a recreation centre and a high school and opened it  in 2013 (at first it was 2011/2012), filled it with about 1400 students by 2017 from schools within the six existing high schools. These 1400 now become empty seats in the south Burlington six schools.

Together with the 495 cited above, this adds up to about the 1800-1900 empty seats now cited as unsustainable.

So this was basically already known before 2010, but the possible consequences were never made public or explained to anyone, from all appearances.

As well, in this 2010-2011 LTAP, there is no business case, or any other rationalization, based on a deficit in pupil places, for building a new school in Alton. This may have been done in earlier years, but there is no visible evidence of the need anywhere, and it is not available or provided for public information right now.

This rationale needs to be provided.

2. How did we stay on this path to problems?
The path Burlington was put on by these Board decisions continued unabated, but the consequences continued to be unexplained to the public, and seemingly were not appreciated or were ignored by Trustees.
I went back to the LTAP for 2012-2013. It quite clearly states that opening Hayden was going to cause problems.
Here’s something I copied out of that report (my underlining). SRA 100 contains the 6 Burlington High schools, besides Hayden the new one.

BURLINGTON – Secondary Review Areas
With the development of the new Secondary Review Areas (SRA)  101 Burlington NE High School (1200 pupil places) in the Alton Community, a school boundary review process was undertaken and completed in June 2012.

The opening of the new high school would result in students being redirected from SRA 100 to this new school.  The additional capacity meant a reduction in the number of students in classroom seats.  The Board appears to have convinced itself that Alton needed a high school and built one – at a time when the high school population wasn’t growing.

Secondary school enroll with Hayden includedEnrollment projections indicate the utilization of space in SRA 100 secondary schools is currently at 87% in 2012, which will decline to 60% in 2022. Moreover, given the capacity of the schools, it is projected once the new high school opens there will be 2503 secondary pupil places available in 2022 within SRA 100.

In reviewing SRA101, it is projected that the new school will continue to grow in enrollment to the point that by
2019, On the Ground (OTG) building and portable capacity could be exceeded, with a utilization rate of 131% by 2022.

Overall for Burlington, by 2022 the OTG utilization is projected to be 72%, with approximately 2129 empty
pupil places. It would appear that within the next few years, consideration should be given to undertaking a
PAR for all secondary schools in Burlington.

So you can see again, that the building of Hayden, the lack of a rationale, and the plan for filling it, was a root cause of the current problem.

Bateman - team on the street protesting

A number of years ago Bateman students demonstrated to keep their football team – parents may find themselves demonstrating to keep their high schools open.

Looking at another Table shows that the actual student numbers in SRA 100 was 5530 in 2012 and was projected, by opening Hayden in 2013, to decline down to 4913 in 2013.

So in that time period, the Board moved about 600 Grade 9 and 10 students from the SRA 100 to Hayden, and then in time would drain other grades and feeder students greatly to get to the overshoot of capacity that they are at now.

The student numbers in Hayden went to 860 in 2014; 1250 in 2015; 1350 in 2016; about 1400 in 2017; and is projected to grow to about 1600 in 2020.

The students could have remained in, and new ones put into, other schools of the 6 existing, and Hayden was not really needed given the pupil places already available at the time as indicated. Further, the school is already overfull, with portables, and this will continue with the present catchment and policy.

From another section of the LTAP 2012-2013 I copied this. I had to take the format from a Table, so that’s why it is what it is.

SRA 100, includes Aldershot, Burlington Central, Lester B. Pearson, MM Robinson, Nelson and Robert Bateman where school enrollments are below OTG capacity and will continue to decline from 87% in 2012 to 60% of OTG
capacity in 2022.

This is a result of the opening of the new school in the Alton High School.

By 2022 there will be approximately 2500 available pupil places in this review area and all schools will be operating below their OTG capacity.

Hayden is already overcapacity in 2016. This is just getting worse and will continue unless policy changes are made.

All these decisions and descriptions are made by the Board, and then rubber-stamped by the Trustees, who I think didn’t really comprehend what was happening.

The near total turn over of trustees in Burlington in the 2014 election didn’t help.

Muir making a pointTom Muir is a resident of Aldershot who has been a persistent critic of decisions made by city council.  He turns his attention to the current school board mess.  He recently suggested to Burlington city council that “If you are so tired of and frustrated by, listening to the views of the people that elected you, then maybe you have been doing this job too long and should quit.

Muir explains that the PARC will only get what people send in, what they come up with from their own efforts, and what they ask/demand from the board. They have to decide what they want and go after it ruthlessly.  They will have to fight with tooth and claw and take no prisoners.




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18 comments to Part 1 – the high school capacity problem is one we created. Trustees failed their constituents and the Board of Education staff was either asleep at the switch or incompetent.

  • M Petersen

    I wonder if it would be helpful to consider conflicts of interest with regard to school closures and Hayden and land development within the board. Clearly the space BCHS occupies is a potential site for development that someone is very interested in obtaining.

  • A parent wanting to be heard

    I think there is another issue that the board failed to deal with, they never reduced school sizes when grade 13 was removed.

    All the additions done at the older schools if removed can remove the 1,900 spaces easily.

    But the board decided against it for the reason of “equality of opportunity”.(as per the PAR FAQ) The public needs to hound the board to remove this impossible requirement. For equality of access to the same courses and programs all school communities would need to be the exact same.

    Even schools with 1400 students can not provide all courses students want.

    Hayden is done and yes heads should roll for making the mistake. But now solutions are needed and the board seems set in only looking for closing schools.

  • Judy

    Currently, there are residential developments in different stages of planning for the north and south west corners of Brant and Ghent and the north east corner of Brant and Prospect. It’s quite likely, given the underutilization of some of the other corners In those intersections, that more development is planned of which I’m unaware. Projections for declining enrolment in the core seem to be misguided and closing Central could prove to be the same mistake as building Hayden in the long term.

  • craig

    How many hayden students come from Nelson/Aldershot or central? When Hayden was opened how many students who would have gone to Nelson/Aldershot or Central went to other Burlington High schools? I know MMR/Pearson and Bateman boundaries chnagesd so they lost stuents is the same true of the three south schools?

    • John


      This issue requires the consideration of all 7 schools but, if the three schools north of the QEW are looked at separately this is a very different picture.

      The total OTG capacity of MMR and Pearson is 1989 without portables.
      I don’t have the exact number of students in 2013 when Hayden opened however, in 2016 there were 2652 students accommodated in the three schools north of the QEW.
      Hayden absorbed some students from MMR and Pearson, just as when Pearson first opened it absorbed some students from MMR.
      The OTG capacity of the 3 schools north of the QEW is 3183 without portables. A boundary change redistributing the 2652 students between these schools would result in 83% utilization projected to rise to 85% by 2024.
      That would seem to solve the issue for the overcrowding at Hayden and the underutilization of MMR and Pearson but, does it enable the board to provide the best program and scheduling options for students?
      The board has suggested by closing Pearson, balancing program’s and redirecting those students, and some from Hayden, to MMR they will also be able to redirect some students to Bateman and help reduce some of those excess pupil spaces south of the QEW..

      What about the excess pupil spaces in the four schools to the south?

      In 2016 there were 2832 students in the four schools south of the QEW, that is projected to decline to 2757 in 2024.
      The total OTG capacity of the four schools to the south is 4092 with 1260 excess pupil spaces. The board is proposing to close Central, 870 pupil spaces, resulting in 88% utilization then declining to 85% by 2024.
      The additional students redirected to Bateman from Hayden would help the overall utilization in the south now, and as the enrolment declines.

      These numbers are taken from the director’s preliminary report and could change slightly however, they are representative of the issue we face in our high schools.

      As I said, this is an issue that requires full consideration of all 7 schools, isolating one doesn’t get the problem solved. Remember this is about the best interest of the students, every other consideration is secondary.

      • Tom Muir

        John, I guess you can torture the data any way you want to support your position, but that continues to ignore the negligence of the Board in building Hayden, with no justification, or fiscal responsibility.

        They created this problem and heads should roll,but you don’t even mention this and never have.

        They offer no explanation of what they did, and you reframe the discussion to provide cover and allow that failure to continue.

        You say all 7 need to be considered together, but then jump to a 3 and 4 split that provides a different picture you say, one that fits your position.

        Shifting students around I agree with, and is needed whatever, but closures are not needed.

        Then you jump back to the full consideration of all 7 schools, saying that is necessary to solve the problem. But you didn’t do the math to show us how the utilization pencils out with all 7 in the mix.

        Put that out there to see what it looks like and for people to think about.

        Maybe you also can put your efforts to describing the data to show how Hayden can be okayed.?

        You are very apparently, and repeatedly, in favour of the Board in closing schools, and you frame your data selection, and use, to try and support, or at least allude to, that position.

        But we don’t need to close schools to redistribute the students, and still achieve acceptable utilization levels, according to what residents have indicated they support.

        The last thing we should do is close schools – things are certainly not dire enough to justify that radical action. Residents don’t think that either.

        I don’t know how you think that the best interest of the students is served in any way by closing schools and putting 600 more of them on buses. this is completely divorced from their interests.

        Have you considered what they might think? Please explain that?

        You provide no evidence that they will get anything in return. You only assert such possible benefits in programming and scheduling (whatever that is in particular), but you provide no data or substance to support that.

        Your turn.

        • John

          The PAR committee is now exploring any and all possibilities that address the issue of excess pupil spaces and program equity.

          If you believe finding the boards justification for building Hayden was wrong and the heads of those responsible should roll, you should continue to presue that. When you obtain that information I am sure the members of that committee would be interested to consider it.

          The board has evaluated 19 options, including all 7 schools remaining open however, there are other factors and scenarios that would address the issues sited to initiate the PAR.
          Like many I don’t have all the answers to a very complex question however, I don’t believe pursuing a business case, that is now several years old, as a probable solution to the issues at hand.

          I do have some ideas that address the issues the PAR committee is considering. They are being verified for accuracy and feasibility, if they appear to help the PAR committee move foreword, I will send them the information.

          • Tom Muir

            You continue in your defense of the board staff – the justification of building Hayden was not just wrong, IT DOES NOT EXIST, and that’s the problem.

            I find it striking that you, who likes to use the numbers to support your positions, have refused to ask the board for the Hayden justification evidence.

            And you say you scratched the surface, but now you turn away from requesting what you said you couldn’t find.

            Instead you tell me to do it, as you have no interest in it if you have to do the real work to clarify the matter. You really know there is no justification or business case, or it would be out there – it is not.

            And you fail to see that the business case around Hayden is not just several years old, but considering that the planning process timelines in this case are much longer, and certainly not in the past, it is very much still with us as a lagged effect.

            We are still dealing with it right now. It’s a sort of business case that is now being used by the Board to justify closing schools, so think again. No mention though of the Hayden business case evidence.

            Because of this glaring absence of evidence, and a forthcoming transparency in the planning justification and process that built Hayden when it was not needed, and the almost exclusive closures options put forward to date, the board has lost its credibility as able to deliver a balanced no closures plan.

            Are the residents, parents, and students thought of as ignorant fools in this evasive charade?

            It seems so.

          • Tom Muir

            I forgot to mention something in my just submitted comment. I am adding something to part of that message, copied here;

            “And you fail to see that the business case around Hayden is not just several years old, but considering that the planning process timelines in this case are much longer, and certainly not in the past, it is very much still with us as a lagged effect.”

            “We are still dealing with it right now. It’s a sort of business case that is now being used by the Board to justify closing schools, so think again. No mention though of the Hayden business case evidence.”

            I want to add that the sort of surplus seats business case the Board is using now is the lagged effect of building Hayden.

            The seats that were built then had no justification in need, so created the surplus seats.

            But this was in effect involved a mostly hidden deferred obligation on the existing schools to pay down the Hayden surplus sometime in the future planning period.

            The rub now is that the Board is coming for the payment in student seats that they deferred previously to build Hayden.

            That’s what’s happening – the Burlington 6 are being effectively taxed, in the present, for the seats given to Hayden in the past.

            It’s really that simply illustrated when you know how the planning horizon and system works.

    • Tom Muir

      Craig, see my comment to John about these numbers.

  • Thanks Tom. People keep writing capacity is over by 1,700 seats. The math is closer to 1,000 with 700 students improperly in Haden’s catchment area.

    The only thing I would add to this excelled review by Tom is the issue of the “one new school”. People like the shiny new school and they want their kids to go to it. I assume that is way we don’t change that catchment of Hayden – because people will go nuts.

    I realize that re-furbishing a school can’t be done with students in it easily. Don’t we have a opportunity here to deflect students out of a school for a year and re-furbish it? I would suspect that if the other high schools were re-done with the types of things that Hayden has – parents would then loose the preference for it and the catchments could be reset properly without bedlam breaking out.

    Once you distribute Hayden’s extra “700” students the “over capacity problem” doesn’t really seem to exist.

    • John

      I am wondering how you arrived at your number?

      When I read the director’s preliminary report the total number of seats, without portables in all seven schools is 7275.
      The total enrolment for 2016 was 5456 leaving a surplus of 1819 seats.

      Regardless of how the enrolment is distributed the number of available seats and the number of students doesn’t change.

      • Hey John,

        I believe I added up the 2020 projection column from a school board chart. I’ll see if I can find which one.

      • Tom Muir

        John, you seem to miss the point that the Board built 1200 seats with no justification of need.

        There were about 940 students in the other 6 schools in 2011/12 – 395 in Nelson; 276 in Bateman; 108 in Pearson; 107 in Robinson, and 55 outside, but included in the holding for Hayden.

        These were all planned to go to Hayden. More went to Hayden later that would have fed into the other 6 schools, till we get to current enrollment in Hayden.

        Then they overfill it by 200, projected to 400 more.

        If you take away that 1400 to 1600, by your count we have a surplus of only 219 to 419 seats. No problem.

        Now they want to close 2 schools because they say we have too many seats, but we didn’t before Hayden, so why did they build it?

        That’s the key issue, and you don’t seem to be able to see it.

        In any case, there are ways to keep all schools open. They won’t be completely full, but acceptably so if it’s done.

        • John

          I understand the point you are making regarding the building of Hayden.

          I have not been able to find the board’s reasoning other than it was part of the plan for the Alton and Orchard communities back in the 1990’s. There must have been a business case submitted to the ministry for the board to get the funding. That would take some digging however, it would not change what we already have.

          Since Hayden is built and operating it is now one of seven schools that the PAR is considering.
          Right or wrong it is what it is and a solution that is in the best interest of students needs to be found.

          • Tom Muir

            John, I didn’t see this comment of yours until after I finished my points below at 10:45 pm.

            What you say here doesn’t really change my reaction to your reasoning, but rather supports what I think.

            You forgive the Board – they must have had a business case – but don’t want to dig or ask the Board to provide it. It’s all supposed to be on the public record, so ask. I want to see it.

            I know Hayden is built, but that doesn’t mean we should just forget about what it has come to mean and has created. There has to be an accountability at the Board, and your choice seems to be to forget about it, let it go.

            I can’t agree with that, and it in no way helps with the best interest of students. Nothing concrete is put forward as the interest part is just words, but the actions are closures, which do not serve student interests

            I don’t think the Board has the credibility to put the students interest first.

            All they suggest is school closures, and that only justifies, and normalizes their mistakes, and whitewashes them over.

            That’s the purpose of this option.

  • B ryce Lee

    ” A high percentage (30%+) of grade 8 students from enrolled in a secondary school other than Dr. Frank Hayden SS in 2015.”

    My question; where did these graduating grade 8 students go after public school?

    Is it possible the same figure of (30% +)could be repeated from not only the named schools: Orchard Park PS and Alexander’s PS in future years and from additional public schools as well?

    Methinks poor boundary planning and insufficient availability to daily transport students to other areas could also be to blame.

    • Chris Ariens

      It is possible that many children in these schools switched tracks to the Catholic board after the construction of Corpus Christi, which is not only a new school, but one that is far more local to students in these catchment areas compared to either Hayden or Robert Bateman (both of which would require busing for students in this neighbourhood).