On what basis do you decide to close a school? That was the task given to the Burlington Program & Accommodation Review Committee (PARC) of 14 parents. We had 13 criteria to assess school closure options to eliminate 1800 empty pupil spaces across seven high schools in Burlington.
As one of two parent representatives on the PARC for Burlington Central High School, I came into this process with a commitment to do what is best for all our students, and go where the evidence takes us. I entered the discussion with an open mind – but not an empty mind. Knowing the community as I do, it made no sense to me to close Central – the director’s initial recommendation along with closing Pearson.
The more we have learned through months of discussion and mountains of data, the less sense it makes to close Central.
There are five options left on the table. One option to close Central & Pearson – 19b – was dropped because it is too similar to option 28c. Of the remaining options, which include closing Central & Pearson, closing Bateman, closing Bateman & Pearson, and closing Nelson, where does the evidence point? The evidence only suggests that there are some options that are worse than others, and none that are great. There will be community disruption no matter what the board does, including closing no schools. At minimum, boundary changes will be required to address overenrolment at Hayden and underenrolment at MMRobinson, Pearson and Bateman.
There is growing support in the community and around the PARC table for a no schools close option, supplemented with boundary changes, community use of schools, cooperation with the Catholic board, and innovative programming to increase the student body, through such ideas as creating regional programs (for example, a cabinet making program in Burlington; the closest is in Georgetown; or an arts program so Burlington students don’t need to go to Etobicoke School of the Arts).
Those are some of the ideas being discussed at the final PARC meetings, which are set to wrap up March 27.
Below is a snapshot of some of the criteria across all of the schools, showing just how difficult the school closure decision is – as it should be.
One of two reasons the PAR began was to address programming conflicts and challenges, largely assumed to be driven by low enrolment.
So do you close the school with the highest course conflict rate? Data on timetable conflicts provided to the PARC found Lester B Pearson has the highest at 44%, followed by Aldershot at 38%, Central at 32%, MM Robinson at 25%, Bateman at 21%, Nelson at 18% and Hayden at 11%.
However, boundary changes directing students from Pearson to the now-overflowing Hayden have led to low enrolment at Pearson. Redirecting students back to Pearson would address two issues: Hayden overcrowding and Pearson under-enrolment.
The next highest school with course conflicts is Aldershot – not even on the closure list (and shouldn’t be).
Let’s turn to low enrolment below 65% of capacity – the other reason the PAR was called.
Do you close the emptiest school? That would be MM Robinson – also not one of the closure options.
According to 2016-2017 projections MM Robinson’s utlization rate is 50%, followed by Bateman at 56%, Pearson at 59%, Central at 68%, Nelson at 79% and Aldershot at 83%. Hayden is overcapacity, at 139%, but again this could be addressed by directing students to the three lowest enrolment schools: MM Robinson, Pearson (both North of the QEW like Hayden) or Bateman (South of Hayden, South of the QEW).
Further, a PARC member has done a detailed analysis of school size and enrolment and found that while generally the fewer students the more potential for course conflicts, there is no statistical correlation between the two.
Presently Burlington as a whole has a course conflict rate of 23%, which would minimally drop to 18.7 % with a one school closure or 15.6% with a two school closure. It doesn’t make sense to close one or more schools and push enrolment over 100% at some schools for such a small (almost negligible) improvement in course selection for students.
One of the criteria is “fiscal responsibility.” So let’s look at costs, namely the five year projected renewal needs, annual operating costs and costs for compliance with accessibility legislation.
Should you close the most expensive school to renew? That would be Bateman (see chart below).
However, the data we received has been roundly criticized by the PARC and public for several reasons. The renewal costs have changed dramatically over several months, by a factor of $23m between the release of the first set of costs in December and the latest version in January. For Central (and possibly other schools) some of the costs included work already completed – to the tune of more than $1 million. Finally, the time horizons for each school vary from six years to 19 years – like comparing apples and oranges. The data is so suspect the PARC has been advised not to focus on costs.
Nevertheless, here are the numbers: (excluding Hayden; as a new school its renewal costs are negligible):
|Range||12 yrs||6 yrs||19 yrs||19 yrs||5 yrs||13 yrs|
Do you close the school with the highest annual operating costs? Here’s how those numbers compare across schools (presented as “operating savings” should that school close):
|Operating savings by facility 2015/2016||$490k||$764k||$584k||$671k||$564k||$595k|
Additionally, all schools are required to come into compliance with Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) legislation by 2025, meaning elevators, accessible doors, ramps, and other features. Those costs are below for each school, however they do not include the cost for a recommended upgrade in elevators for Aldershot, Pearson and Nelson from their current LULA (Limited Use, Limited Access) elevator, or a required new elevator at MM Robinson. In addition, Central’s AODA costs contain a higher percentage of overall costs than other schools for asbestos abatement during construction – however, most of the the school was built in 1922, before asbestos was used.
*These schools have a LULA, which the report recommends be upgraded, the cost of which is not included in the above totals. Read full AODA report
AODA are one-time expenses required under legislation for all schools, and can be phased in over the next seven years. To put these costs in perspective, the cost to bring Central into compliance phased in over seven years is $457k per year. That’s not much more than the $378k annual cost to bus an additional 600 students (at $630 per student) if Central & Pearson were closed (see busing chart below). Plus, busing costs continue in perpetuity every year, whereas AODA are one time expenses.
In addition, closing Central & Pearson will lead to overcrowding at Aldershot (capacity jumps to 129% in 2018), Aldershot can accommodate 10 portables, at $60,000 each in installation (plus annual operating), for a total of $600,000.
Thus, any “savings” from closing Central to avoid AODA costs will vanish within about five years, leaving only ongoing busing and portable costs.
One of the 13 criteria is “proximity to other schools (non-bus distances, natural boundaries, walking routes).” Student groups and programs can move to different schools, but nothing changes geography.
So, do you close a school in close proximity to another school? In the south that would be either Nelson or Bateman, 1.9km apart. This close proximity to each other is one of the reasons PARC members added Bateman and Nelson to the closure list.
In the North, that would be Pearson, whose catchment overlaps with MM Robinson and Hayden. However, Pearson could take some of the overflow from Hayden if it remained open.
The map provides the walking distance for each school, shown by the circles.
The following chart shows the percent of students who are not eligible for busing because they live within walking distance of 3.2km or attend an optional program for which there is no busing:
|% of students not bused (live within 3.2km or not eligible by program)||62%||76%||93%||93%||99%||90%||62%|
The director’s initial recommendation to close Central & Pearson would create an 11.4km hole in the heart of the city with no school, in an intensification area with the highest growth targets of the whole city. A school where 93% of kids live within walking distance would turn into a school where 100% of kids are bused outside the neighbourhood. This is not a one-time transition. Closing Central would permanently remove the only school from a thriving community and bus kids out of their neighbourhood.
The increase in students bussed under each option is below:
No schools close (Option 7b): 131
Close Bateman (Option 4b): 262 students
Close Bateman and Pearson (Option 23d): 286
Close Nelson (Option 3c:) 364
Pearson/Central Close (Option 28c): 615
When Hayden was built, part of the rationale was to keep kids within their community and promote walking to school. Before the new school opened, a Boundary Review Committee was struck to set boundaries. Among their criteria for measuring boundary options was “proximity to schools (walking distances, safe school routes, natural boundaries).” The Committee’s preferred recommendation was presented to the Board of Trustees in a report May 16, 2012. The recommendation satisfied several criteria including that “the majority of students attending the new Burlington NE high school will be able to walk to school.”
|No Closure||One closure||Two closure|
|Option||No closure (7b)||Nelson closes (3c)||Bateman closes (4b)||Central & Pearson close (19b)||Central & Pearson close (28c)||Bateman & Pearson close (23d)|
|Summary of Changes||568 Reduced Hayden catcment||61FI Central to Aldershot||747 Bateman students move||593 Central students redirected||593 Central students redirected||747 Bateman students redirected|
|MMRobinson/Pearson catchment expanded||276FI Hayden to Bateman||43 Central boundary expands to Guelph Ln||379 Pearson students redirected||379 Pearson students redirected||379 Pearson students redirected|
|284 Pearson gains IB (174)/Gifted (110)||1006 Nelson students redirected||254 Eng Bateman expands west (Nelson) & north (Hayden)||388 Bateman expands west (Nelson) & north (Hayden)||276 FI from Hayden|
|316 FI to MM||276 FI from Hayden||184 Central boundary expands|
|.||147 FI from Hayden/Nelson to Bateman||260 PAR required for Burlington Central elementary|
|260 PAR required for Burlington Central elementary|
|# of students impacted (must change schools due to closure/ boundary change)||TOTAL: 852||TOTAL: 1343||TOTAL: 790||TOTAL: 1909||TOTAL: 1896||TOTAL: 1586|
|# of split cohorts||Three||Five split cohorts||No splits||Seven||Six||Four|
|Students redirected from current school||One school redirected||Two schools redirected||Two schools redirected||One school redirected|
|# of Schools Overcapacity|
Based on the above analysis, the most disruptive option to students of the five is closing Central/Pearson, with close to 2000 students uprooted and changing schools, not counting the impact on elementary students from split cohorts (kids from an elementary school going to different high schools) and elementary schools redirected from their current high school to another high school.
Don’t swing from undercapacity to overcapacity
Several of the options swing from undercapacity to overcapacity at some schools, putting students in portables, the very thing that we are trying to correct at Hayden. One of the criteria for the PAR to consider in evaluating options is the “goals and focus of the current multi-year plan”. The school utilization goal of the plan is 90%. When schools drop below 65%, a Program & Accommodation Review can be called. In the options below, where there is overcapacity at some schools and also undercapacity (below 65%) at others, further boundary changes could address both under and over capacity.
Here is how the utilization rate for schools compares among the options by 2018 (the date any school closure/boundary change is expected to begin):
No schools close (Option 7b):
- Overall utilization: 74%-80%
- Schools overcapacity: Pearson 116%
- Schools below 65%: Bateman 54%; MMRobinson 64%
Nelson closes (Option 3c):
- Overall utilization: 91%-98%
- Schools overcapacity: Bateman 107%; Pearson 109%;
- Schools below 65%: None
Bateman closes (Option 4b):
- Overall utilization: 91%-97%
- Schools overcapacity: Nelson 114%; Pearson 131%; Hayden 112%
- Schools below 65%: MMRobinson 62%
Bateman & Pearson close (Option 23d):
- Overall utilization: 102%-109%
- Schools overcapacity: Nelson 121%; MMRobinson 104%; Hayden 116%
- Schools below 65%: None
Central & Pearson Close (Option 28c):
- Overall utilization: 94%-101%
- Schools over capacity: Aldershot 129%; Hayden 104%
- Schools below 65%: None
The final PARC meeting is March 27, the director’s recommendation report is expected April 21, the public delegation evenings to trustees are May 8 and 11, and the trustees vote on an option June 7. More information is available here: Next Steps