Part 4: Was the building of Hayden high school the beginning of the end for Central and Pearson?

backgrounder 100By Tom Muir

January 19th, 2017


Part 4 of a series:
Tom Muir, an Aldershot resident, has been an active participant in civic affairs or more than 25 years. He has been described 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. In this article, one of a series Muir suggest what he feels are obvious solutions to the problem the Board of Education believes it has. There is a lot of material; it gets dense at times. Living in a democracy means you have to accept the responsibility of citizenship and stay informed.

I have set out what I think is the background reason for the situation Burlington parents and their high school level students face with the possible closing of two high schools in the city and I have suggeted that the mess we asre in is one we created for ourselves.

How do we get out of the mess?

Where does the Board staff appear to sit?
The Board seems to be into closing schools. Almost all the options close schools. Some seem nonsensical. I was surprised by this very limited plan.

They say 1800 empty seats is not sustainable long term.  And the Board staff data is said to be accurate now, and and has been accurate in the past.

Go back to the Board data for 2010 when there were 495 actual empty seats, and 92% space utilization, in the 6 then existing schools in Burlington.

They developed plans, with no evident justification, to build another school in Alton – add 1200 seats plus about 280 in portables.

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.

Empty classroom seats. Burlington has 1800 of them. These seat are in Hayden high school which some feel should not have been built. The recreation centre and the library made sense – the facts suggest the building of a high school in Alton created the problem that exists now south of the QEW.

Build school, open in 2013, fill with about 1400 students by 2017, mostly from schools within the six existing high schools. These 1400 now become empty seats in the south Burlington six high schools.

This adds up to about the 1800-1900 now cited as unsustainable.

This is based on the past and forecast data that is said to be accurate.

So it can be said with accuracy that the Board created the 1800 empty seats that they now say are not sustainable. Why and how?

Building Hayden in Alton can be said with accuracy to be a blundered construction of most of the 1800 empty seats.

So they now want to close two schools of the original six that housed all these students, before Hayden, within the comfortable 90% utilization.

So the Board itself created this so-called unsustainable 1800 empty seats, and they did it with accuracy.

They have also gotten away with this unexplained blunder with no accountability for what is incompetent planning in my opinion, based on the face of the so-called accurate data.


Director of Education Stuart Miller during an on-line Q&A which some parents thought was rigged.

So how does this work that the Director isn’t sure now what the residents/public of the south Burlington six expect from him and the Board?

Well, what I expect is that the Director offer innovative and management solutions to clean up the mess you have created.

And don’t tell us that your forecast data are accurate. It’s seems to be a new age for housing costs and form, so families will likely have to more and more occupy higher density.

The historical pupil yield curves used may be too low in this new age. That’s what happened in the Alton community, and the Board data didn’t catch it.

Don’t make more mistakes and cost the community dearly by closing schools based on methods and attitudes that actually created the mess.

It is possible to use the toolbox to keep all the schools open. Go to that toolbox and show us how we can make the empty spaces of use.

Don’t impatiently make irreversible quick decisions that we will all have to live with in regret.
That’s what people expect, among other things, I think.

What about the efficiency and sustainability of 1800 empty seats?

But if we accept that 1800 empty seats are not sustainable, at face value, what does it imply about the strictly business end of producing student spaces?

In 2012 the utilization of SRA 100 Burlington spaces was 87%, so there was a minimal excess over the Board target of 90%. It was also projected to fall and is now at about 75%. But it only fell because Hayden was opened and students were transferred there, and this continues to date, filling up portables and a projected student surplus of about 600.

What the hell is going on here may I ask, with the Board sense of planning? And this just looks to continue in this PAR.


Was Hayden high school needed? Depends on what you wanted. The high school seats may not have been needed but the Board of Education, the Library and the city’s recreation department had skin in the game. The idea was to create a structure that would become a community centre and when that was decided upon – an excess of students seats got forgotten – the bureaucrats were building and if that meant the death of two high schools so be it. Where were the trustees at the time? Did they not see this coming and did they not ask questions?

The point being for our business model, is that there is no apparent rationale, no business case, to build Hayden, as there was no shortage of supply of student places. There was already some identifiable surplus.

With such an excess supply identified, and projected to worsen, on the basis of this issue definition, what reason existed to build additional supply of students spaces at Hayden? In fact, we still don’t need Hayden on this basis.

If most people made this kind of business decision, they would be in deep doo-doo, and in deeper when there are serious consequences, which there are, but not for those who made the decisions.

This decision by the Board had no justifying business case in terms of student spaces, but created an excess which is now being used to justify closing schools to make up for their mistake.

Everyone knows this has just made things much worse and created a divisive mess for which no one is being held accountable.

Regarding the provision of student opportunities as a reason for the PAR, there was never any evidence provided to show that Hayden provided any opportunities that didn’t already exist. And there is still no evidence provided that closing other schools will provide any additional opportunities that also don’t already exist.

In fact, closing schools will require that 500 to 600 additional students are provided, rather “necessitated”, the “opportunity” to ride the bus to school instead of walk, which most of the would be displaced do at present. Some opportunity this is.

Hopefully, you can see the thinness of putting the issue as just about excess student spaces. The Board itself created the excess. It didn’t exist before Hayden.

Why was Hayden built? Where’s the cost-benefit analysis of what has been created?

The only thing I have even remotely heard, is that the people in the north of Burlington, in Alton, were entitled to, or “needed” schools in their neighborhood.

Which begs the question, what about the rest of Burlington, now under the gun because of the Board building a Hayden not needed for student spaces.

And here is where the real issue mess lies, the part left out of your issue definition.

Because the students were transferred in ever greater numbers, even overflowing into portables, exceeding the Hayden built supply of places, from the existing schools, and then their feeders, thus creating the excess in those schools.

Trustees - fill board +

It is the trustees that are accountable. But the trustees who made the decision to build the Hayden high school aren’t there anymore. Of the 11 in office now eight are serving their first term of office. Burlington’s ward 5 trustee Amy Collard is serving her second term – both by acclamation, Trustees Kelly Amos from Burlington and trustee Donna Danielli from Milton were on the board at the time the Hayden high school decision was made.

So that’s where this logic of this issue definition takes us. Based on this definition, Hayden should not have been built.  Is anyone going to be held accountable for this?

If Hayden neighborhood residents and parents and students “needed” their own school, whatever happened to the rest of us down here in the south? Do we not count in this?

This is the real mess that this issue definition is too thin to manage. It is much more than excess student places, which is a red herring.

What have parents, residents and students to say about their concerns and what they want?

A perusal of the Gazette archive will get at least some sense of what some people are saying and/or want.  As I noted earlier, one key 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. I described this situation in detail above.

So if the Trustees know that set of facts, and others do as well, what do they think resident feelings and concerns are?

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.

Previous articles:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3


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2 comments to Part 4: Was the building of Hayden high school the beginning of the end for Central and Pearson?

  • tenni

    What are the physical conditions of Central and Pearson schools? Are they in need of repair?

    It is my understanding that city planners plan new education facilities in new communities like Alton and the school boards staff would know this well in advance. Parents all want their kids to be able to walk to school whether they are in Alton or downtown.

    Another possibility is to have the grade 7 & 8’s return to their feeder school rather than go to Aldershot. The educational concept of separating grades 7, 8 and sometimes 9 &10 is an older model with perps and minuses. Hormone city is often reduced when grade 7&8 students get to be the mature leaders for younger students. I taught in both structures and the best seemed to be to not separate the grade 7 & 8 students but leave them in their feeder school until grade 9.

  • Andrew

    Directly from the PAR report (below). Board recommended Option 19. 98 percent occupancy, or 141 spaces for error. If you read the excerpt the board has no idea what will happen with the grade 7 and 8 in Central High School, they occupy the 2nd floor (keep in mind this is 2 years from now) and will have to build 10 portables at Aldershot to accommodate the influx.

    Does this seem like a logical choice by Stuart Miller? Is this the same team that justified the opening of Hayden? I hope the trustees are more informed and logical, but this is a tough spot that the board has put them in.

    Burlington Central HS
    Also, it is staff’s preferred option that Burlington Central HS be closed effective the end of June 2018. All secondary students, west of Brant St., will be redirected to Aldershot HS and secondary students east of Brant St to be redirected to Nelson HS. This recommendation does not include the redirection of Grade 7 and 8 students from the Burlington Central Elementary PS. In the event that the decision is made to close this high school, there is a potential that a Program and Accommodation Review may be required for the elementary schools that currently feed into Burlington Central PS for Grades 7 and 8.

    Aldershot HS
    The Aldershot HS catchment will be expanded east to Brant St, as a result of closing Burlington Central HS. Enrolments indicate total capacity will exceed the secondary allotment of the OTG by 2018. The Aldershot facility size is 1018 pupil places. Ten portables can be placed on the site. Should this recommendation be approved, a PAR maybe required for the elementary schools in the Aldershot community.