Several residents have reported to me that they’ve been told by a candidate for public school trustee that “Burlington Central is closing.” You’ve turned to me for accurate information.
The short answer is that no, Burlington Central is not closing – nor is any other Burlington school slated for closure.
However, there is always a possibility at some point in the future that the Halton District Public School Board may consider a school closure. There is a public process before that happens, detailed below.
The first step, which hasn’t yet been initiated, is a Program Accommodation Review (PAR). It is widely expected that the Halton Director of Education will request a PAR for six secondary schools in Burlington that are facing declining enrolment, namely Aldershot, Burlington Central, Lester B. Pearson, M.M. Robinson, Nelson and Robert Bateman, to commence in January 2015.
The outcomes of a PAR can include school closures, consolidations, construction, boundary changes, or program relocation.
The PAR process includes requirements for public notice and opportunities for residents, parents and stakeholders to participate. There is also provision for a municipal councillor to formally participate, and I will be looking for that opportunity. I will keep residents informed if and when a PAR is called, how you can make your views known, and how we can work together to keep our schools open and vibrant, in the best interest of our students and entire community.
School review process
Long Term Accommodation Plan:
Every year, the Halton District Public School Board reviews enrolment projections for all schools in the board and identifies issues, concerns and potential next steps. If concerns are significant enough, a Program Accommodation Review is started.
The 2013/2014 Long Term Accommodation Plan (LTAP) provides enrolment projections for the years 2014 to 2023 for each elementary and secondary review area, and each elementary and secondary school, in the board. The LTAP also identifies accommodation pressures resulting from these enrolment projections and strategies to address them, such as boundary studies.
According to the LTAP, in Burlington by 2023 the “on the ground” utilization rate (or OTG, as defined by criteria set by the Ministry of Education) is projected to be 68%, with approximately 2376 empty pupil places. As a result, the LTAP approved by trustees in June said that “consideration should be given to undertaking a PAR for all secondary schools in Burlington.”
Program Accommodation Review:
The first step is to establish a Program Accommodation Review Committee, or PARC. The committee is advisory and its task is to study and make recommendations on accommodation options that will eventually come to the board of trustees for a final decision. The PARC is composed of:
- two trustees – one within the study area and one outside;
- two superintendents, one from the study area and one outside;
- a principal and two parents from each of the affected schools;
- a municipal councillor or designate; and
- a member of the business community.
The committee must hold at least four public meetings, giving at least 30 days notice for the first one. In addition, the committee meetings themselves are open to the public for observation.
Low enrolment doesn’t automatically trigger a school closure, according to a Q&A prepared by the board. Before closing schools, a number of factors must be considered including the size of the school, costs, impact on students, and whether a school is the only school in a given community.
As a parent of children attending both Aldershot and Burlington Central schools, I’m dedicated to ensuring these schools are successful and remain open. The community, and my office, would oppose closure not just for these schools, but elsewhere in Burlington. Schools are the heart of our communities, and if we want to encourage vibrant, walkable neighbourhoods, retaining our existing local schools is key. I will be asking to sit on the PAR committee as the municipal representative if a review is undertaken. I will also follow this issue closely and let residents know through the newsletter if a PAR is called later this year, and how you can get involved.
I am indebted to Leah Reynolds, chair of the parent council of Burlington Central, and a candidate for public school trustee for Wards 1 & 2, for bringing me up to speed on this issue and pointing me toward appropriate resources. It will be important for city councillors and school trustees to work closely together, especially if a PAR is called. Leah has been attending the board meetings, researching the issue and consulting with parents, teachers and other trustees. If you’re interested in following this and other school board issues, sign up for Leah’s electronic newsletter. I’ve learned more about what’s happening at the board in the last year getting Leah’s newsletter than I’ve known the last four years.
What are your thoughts about the enrolment projections and program options for schools in our community? Leave a comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org