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Catholic trustees vote on school closures April 19

st john schoolTrustees for the Halton Catholic District School Board (HCDSB) are slated to vote April 19 on a proposal from staff to close three schools in South Burlington.

Residents attended the board meeting on April 5 and shared their views on the proposed closures. The residents were overwhelmingly opposed to the closures and asked the trustees to put the plans on hold and seek alternatives that would retain a school presence in south Central Burlington, where St. Paul and St. Raphael sit. You can read the delegation notes here and watch the video of the meeting here: April 5 board meeting

I also spoke at the meeting, sharing information on the city’s Official Plan and Strategic Plan, which call for attracting young families, pedestrian-friendly neighbourhoods where students can walk to school, and growth projections that are higher than what is predicted in the staff growth numbers. Read my presentation here: HCDSB Presentation MMW April 5 2016-2

In the Southwest area, staff are recommending closing St. Paul Catholic Elementary School on Cumberland St and redirecting the students to St. John (Burlington) Catholic Elementary School on Brant St in Ward 2. A 4-6 classroom addition would be built at St. John for the 2017-2018 school year. The current plan is for buses to cue up on Courtland Drive to allow students to cross through the park to the school.

The St. Paul school facility would be retained as a board holding to review options for combining the lands with Assumption Catholic Secondary School for a potential future project.

In the Southeast area, staff are recommending demolishing Ascension Catholic Elementary School on New St. and constructing a 648-pupil facility on this site for the 2017-18 school year; closing St. Patrick (Kenwood Ave) and St. Raphael (New St) and redirecting these school populations to Ascension; and relocating Burlington Thomas Merton Adult Learning Centre (currently leased in commercial space) to St. Raphael.  St. Patrick would be sold with the proceeds used for future renewal projects.

Review the staff presentation here: Recommendations on school closures Additional information is in the resources section below, after My Take.

Claire’s Take:

It was a Tuesday evening on April 5th at Corpus Christi Secondary School, and at 6:30 the meeting regarding closures of Catholic elementary schools began. Over 40 residents attended the meeting, along with school trustees and board staff. Just to get this off my chest, I had never been inside Corpus Christi before, and wow, it was interesting. Tall ceilings drew my eyes up to see all the large windows, along with the openness of the space. Anyways, back to the meeting.

The meeting started with an opening prayer, followed by an introduction to the delegations. It was explained that each individual or group of delegators had the floor for a maximum of 10 minutes, and as I looked over the agenda and saw about 22 delegator groups, I knew it was going to be a long night. Before the meeting, Marianne had told me that everyone who wanted to be involved in the delegations had to send a copy of their speaking notes and slideshow, and also had to be approved to speak. This was one aspect of the meeting that I really remembered, and that was how organized and orderly it was. Some of the delegations lasted for only eight minutes, while some pushed to finish their train of thought after 10.

Each delegator came prepared with clear points and strong evidence, not just their own opinions. Important and really good insight came from these points as well. One lady talked about her mother who lives in the area of one of the schools, and how she didn’t even know that her quiet neighborhood street (Courtland Drive) might become a hub for buses. I was glad she brought up the fact that her mother, who is a resident of the area, wasn’t even notified about what might happen. Other delegators brought up concerns for their children. The children who might have to be transferred might face bullying at their new school, or just not be happy at all. The new and larger number of students at a school because of the transfers might discourage children to join clubs or sports teams. I felt like it was important that some of the delegators brought up the happiness of the students, because they are the ones who will experience a lot of the change from this decision.

I certainly felt like what I observed from this meeting was positive, because everyone just wants the best for the community and the children. Nobody got aggressive or loud, people were professional and brought up great points for the board to think about. It was 9:00, and I had sat through about 14 of the 22 delegations, so Marianne said I could leave. As I left the school that evening, I had a feeling that the board and trustees have a lot to consider since the delegations were so strong. Whichever decision the board chooses, I hope it is one that will benefit the future students to the schools, as well as the community.

Editor’s note: Claire Bradbury  is a Grade 11 co-op student in my office till June learning about journalism and municipal government

Marianne’s Take: In light of new information brought by residents, and the fact the deadline has passed to qualify for provincial funding, I encourage the trustees to press “pause” on any closure or consolidation, and consider the alternatives suggested by residents to keep a school presence in Central Burlington between St. John and Ascension. I thought the residents’ presentations were thoughtful and well-researched, covering issues from transportation, safety, school size, connection to a parish, and walkability. Though I appreciate the challenges of declining enrolment, neighbourhoods constantly change and evolve; in time, new families will move into our older neighbourhoods as older adults move into the condos being built in downtown Burlington. At one time Lakeshore Public School was slated for closure because of declining enrolment; today, due to more families moving in, it is a thriving school that my son graduated from. Schools are the heart of a community. Closing schools is irreversible. I appreciate the recommendations by the board to retain and temporarily repurpose some of their properties; perhaps similar plans could be employed at schools currently slated for closure. If we want kids to walk to school, retaining smaller locals schools is key.

Resources:

For more information, contact your Catholic School Board Trustee. The Ward 2 trustee is:

Arlene Iantomasi
Burlington Trustee Wards 1 & 2
& Vice Chair of the Board

905-632-6314 x. 7182
iantomasia@hcdsb.org

A full list of trustees is here: Board of Trustees

You can also find information on the HCDSB website here:

HCDSB Schools Accommodation Reviews

Frequently Asked Questions: Modified Pupil Accommodation Reviews

The review is taking place in accordance with Operating Policy I-09 School Accommodation Review – Consolidation/Closure and Administrative Procedure VI-35 School Accommodation Review – Consolidation/Closure

I was inspired to seek public office because I believe, like so many of you, “I can do something about that” on the issues we face. As councilor, my role is to take a stand on what’s best for residents and go to bat for it. Pushback is inevitable from those who don’t have the community’s interests at heart. I will stand with you and for you, to achieve the best interests of our city, without caving to unacceptable compromise in the name of consensus.

What's your take?