The Upper Canada District School Board (UCDSB) has released a report warning that 29 school closures are needed to offset declining enrollment at rural elementary and secondary schools in the Upper Canada district.

On September 28, the UCDSB trustees met to discuss the findings of the 185-page report, titled “Building for the Future, Pupil Accommodation Review,” which calls for the closure of 16 public schools at the end of the 2016/2017 school year. An additional 13 school closures are proposed beyond that period.

The day after the meeting, UCDSB Chair of the Board of Trustees Jeff McMillan spoke with The Review about the board’s decision to proceed with the Accommodation Review. The decision on whether or not to close any of the schools will be made at the March 23, 2017 meeting of the UCDSB Board of Trustees. Over the next six months, trustees will be meeting with members of the public, as well as municipal and government leaders to discuss options.

“We will be looking at each of the individual schools and the scenarios outlined in the report,” said McMillan.
Over the past ten years (2005 to 2015), enrollment has dropped at UCDSB elementary schools by nearly 17 per cent. This represents a decline of about 3,500 students. The secondary schools have been hit even harder, with a 30 per cent decline, representing a loss of more than 4,000 students. The school board currently maintains 86 schools and it has an operating budget of $346 million.

The UCDSB report blames enrollment decline on the loss of the “echo boom” of children born to baby boomers. It says that the decline is a reality across Ontario.

“This same under-utilization will remain in place for the next 14 years unless efforts are undertaken to reduce space,” says the report.

When asked how the board is responding to the migration of some students from UCDSB to surrounding Francophone boards, McMillan said that the UCDSB is reviewing its French programs to see if improvements can be made.

“We are aware that French is a critical factor at many of the schools in our board. Some areas of the board have stronger French communities than others and many border Quebec,” said McMillan.

McMillan said he remained hopeful that parents would choose to stay with the UCDSB in the event of school closures, rather than switching to competing school boards.

“We’re trying to create the best learning circumstances for all of our students, with an active staff who would still be present,” said McMillan. He said that it is too early to estimate how many teaching and staffing jobs might be lost in the event the school closures proceed.

The UCDSB currently has 36,084 students enrolled in its primary or secondary schools and says it has 9,834 surplus spaces. The report says that 23 elementary schools and five high schools in the board are using less than 60 per cent of their capacity. This includes five elementary schools with fewer than 75 students and 24 others with between 76 and 200 students. One of the high schools had fewer than 200 students, while ten others had between 200 and 500 students.

“We have too much surplus classroom space in our schools. This is a challenge because the funding school boards receive from the Ontario Ministry of Education to operate and maintain schools, is increasingly based upon the amount of physical space required, given student enrollments,” says the report.

The Ministry of Education used to provide additional financial support to school boards to account for the operation, maintenance and renewal of surplus space in schools, but this is no longer the case.

The UCDSB says many of their schools are in need of massive repair. If neighbouring schools have vacancies, the Ontario Ministry of Education won’t pay for the cost of repairing these schools and the UCDSB says it can’t afford to absorb the expense.

“As a result, it is very unlikely that the UCDSB will be able to replace or build additions unless surplus school space is consolidated,” says the report.

The first round of closures would include Benson Public School, Char-Lan District High School, Glen Tay Public School, Long Sault Public School, North Elmsley Public School, Oxford-On-Rideau Public School, Pakenham Public School, Plantagenet Public School, Rideau Centennial Public School, Rothwell-Osnabruck, Seaway District High School and Wolford Public School.

A second round of schools under review for possible closure include Caldwell Public School, Glengarry District High School, Maynard Public School, St. Lawrence Secondary School, Sweet’s Corners Public School, Maxville Public School and North Stormont Public School.

In the event the Glengarry District High School (GDHS) were to close, the UCDSB would cease to operate a secondary school between Cornwall and Vankleek Hill. Students would be forced to commute nearly an hour to either Tagwi Secondary School, in Cornwall, or Vankleek Hill Collegiate Institute (VCI), in Vankleek Hill.

“The last thing that we want it to put our students in a situation where they are on a bus for a very long time,” said McMillan.

The UCDSB report warns that rising busing costs could offset some of the potential savings associated with the closures. In some cases larger buses would need to be purchased and bus routes would need to change.

UCDSB spokesperson Cindy Peters told The Review on Wednesday that VCI currently has 311 students. It has a capacity for 357 pupils, meaning that it has room to add 46 students without renovating the building
The UCDSB report says that there is insufficient space at VCI to accommodate Grade 7 and 8 students from GDHS. It also says the school, which already uses two portable classrooms, could not reasonably accommodate more portables.

On September 28, UCDSB Ward 10 Trustee Caroll Carkner told The Review that school closures are not set in stone.
“We have until March to make this decision on what we will proceed with,” said Carkner, who confirmed that VCI is maintaining steady enrollment numbers and is not being considered for closure. She said that Pleasant Corners Public School (PCPS), in Vankleek Hill is maintaining similarly strong numbers, keeping it safe from the chopping block.

“We’re not only closing schools, we’re hoping to build some,” said Carkner. The report says that closures would enable the UCDSB to rebuild six schools, including Wellington School, South Crosby School, Cornwall High School, Perth and District Collegiate, Caldwell Public School and Commonwealth Public School. It would also enable the board to build additions at Westminster School, Williamstown School, Roxmore School, Drummond School, North Grenville District High School and Iroquois School. Other schools would be renovated to include a number of new elements, including purpose-built kindergarten classrooms. The renovations would focus on outdoor play and learning spaces, and on improving accessibility.

Enrollment is up at Francophone boards

On September 28, Conseil Scolaire de District Catholique de l’Est Ontarien (CSDCEO) representative Marie-Claude Dicaire told The Review that none of the CSDCEO schools are at risk of closing this year. Enrollment numbers for the CSDCEO are expected to be released at the end of October, said Dicaire.

At the Conseil des écoles publicques de l’est de l’Ontario (CEPEO) enrollment is steadily increasing. CEPEO spokesperson Alexandre Meloche Dorris told The Review that this year enrollment increased by 4.1 per cent, increasing the student population to about 14,500 students, including nearly 500 adults. The CEPEO operates 40 schools, including 28 elementary and six secondary schools. It also operates adult education and training centres.
“We know we had a lot of students move into our schools last year. We think it might be because of the interest expressed by English parents who are looking for French programs for their children. It’s easier to find a job when you are bilingual,” said Meloche Dorris. This is the second year in a row that the CEPEO has seen an increase. In the 2015/2016 school year, enrollment increased by 3.5 per cent. Meloche Dorris said that enrollment has followed this trend for a number of years.

Steve Brabant, director of corporate strategy at the CEPEO told The Review that the largest increases in student enrollment happen between Kindergarten and Grade Three. Most of the new students are attending schools in or around Ottawa, but Brabant said that enrollment increases are happening across the board’s territory.

“We are welcoming kids from other boards and have a 6.2 per cent decrease in the number of kids leaving our schools,” said Brabant. He said that in the last year, there was a 26 per cent decrease in the number of students leaving the CEPEO to attend English public school. Among the new arrivals, the CEPEO saw a 2.5 per cent increase in students arriving from other boards and a 17 per cent increase in the number of students transferring to the CEPEO from English Catholic school boards.

When the CEPEO was launched in 1998, Brabant said that it had about 8,500 kids enrolled in its schools. Over the past 18 years, the CEPEO has grown to 13,985 students, with an additional 500 people enrolled in adult education. Two new schools were opened by the board last year, in Kemptville and in Riverside South.

At the Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario (CDSBEO) enrollment is also increasing. CDSBEO spokesperson Amber LaBerge told The Review that the school board has increased by 74 students this year, for a total population of 12,814 students.

The public consultation process relating to the Building for the Future, Pupil Accommodation Review runs from October 2016 through March 2017. On October 17 and 21 municipal and community partners will be meeting with the UCDSB. On October 17, they will meet at the North Grenville Municipal Centre and on October 21, they will meet at General Vanier. Orientation meetings will be held on October 20 and 24.

The first round of public consultations will be held on November 10 and again on January 19 at the Rockland District High School, starting at 6:30 p.m.

Here is a link to the UCDSB report, “Building for the Future, Pupil Accomodation Review

  • This story was updated on September 29, 2016, at 11:41 a.m. to include comments made by the Conseil des écoles publicques de L’est de l’Ontario (CEPEO)
  • This story was updated on September 29, 2016, at 1:49 p.m. to include comments made by UCDSB Trustee Jeff McMillan
  • This story was updated on September 29, 2016, at 2:13 p.m. to include comments made by CEPEO Director of Corporate Strategy Steve Brabant.