Motion to rescind UCDSB decision defeated
BROCKVILLE - A motion put forward at a school board meeting last week did not deter the Upper Canada District School Board from its plan to examine the possibility of closing more than two dozen schools throughout the region.
During a regular meeting of the UCDSB in Brockville on Wednesday, October 12, three trustees supported a motion that would have rescinded the board's approval of a staff report that was presented and approved at a meeting on September 28 and which recommended the closure or consolidation of up to 29 schools in the board's jurisdiction, including 16 that could close at the end of this school year.
Eight trustees, however, voted against and ultimately defeated the motion, which was moved by Ward 4 trustee, John McAllister, representing Athens and Elizabethtown-Kitley, and seconded by Ward 9 trustee Wendy McPherson, representing Stormont and Glengarry.
Lisa Swan, representing Ward 6, which includes Edwardsburgh-Cardinal, Prescott and North Grenville, also supported the motion, saying she was disappointed at the last meeting that the board decided to approve the 'Building for the Future' Pupil Accommodation Review.
"Accepting the report and its proposal to close so many schools was disheartening to say the least," said Swan, who wasn't present for last Wednesday's meeting in Brockville but participated by teleconference.
Before any of the dissenting trustees had their say, however, board chair Jeff McMillan laid some ground rules for the contentious discussion he knew was about to ensue. He insisted that no matter how disputatious the debate or how divisive the vote, once the board decides on a matter, all members must be on board with the decision. He admonished that revisiting a decision reached by due process is a violation of the board's code of conduct and warned that the dissenting trustees would not be permitted to re-argue the case that was debated at the last board meeting.
Nevertheless, McAllister put forward ten reasons he believed the Pupil Accommodation Review ought to be scrapped and the review process begun anew.
"This is a time to look at education differently," he said.
Citing his belief that the scope of the review was too far-reaching, McAllister also noted that many critical factors were not taken into account by staff, including, among others, the historical and cultural importance of many schools to their communities and the considerable economic impact of these schools, particularly to smaller municipalities. Furthermore, he didn't think the affected municipalities were sufficiently informed or consulted in the review process.
Wendy McPherson agreed, suggesting that such an oversight might put the board in the position of being challenged on its decisions by affected communities.
"We need to rescind this and start over and do it right and do it fair," she said.
Swan's criticisms of the review were along similar lines.
"We did not truly engage in consultation," she said. "Let us talk and listen with real dialogue both ways."
These argument were not persuasive, however, to the others around the table.
"I'm a little insulted by this motion," said David McDonald, second vice-chair representing Ward 8 in Cornwall. "By putting this forward, you're questioning my capacity to act as a trustee two weeks ago."
Were the process to be halted now, given the deadlines imposed by the Ministry of Education, there is no way the board could complete a new review and conduct public consultations and arrive at a conclusion by the end of March. The whole process would thus be postponed until next year, and this was not an acceptable course of action for the trustees who supported the review.
"We are faced with some very deep challenges," said McMillan. "The impact of doing nothing is unimaginable and unjustifiable for a board of trustees."
McMillan also wanted to disabuse the community of some mistaken impressions that might be tainting the popular view of the 'Building for the Future' process, pointing out that nothing specific has actually been decided, and the staff report contained only suggestions.
"We have not closed schools. The staff has opened up a dialogue. We have not made a decision," said the board chair. "Anyone who says 'they've already made up their minds' is wrong. Absolutely wrong."
In this area, three schools came up in the report. It was recommended that Cardinal's Benson Public School be closed at year's end, while Maynard Public School and South Edwardsburgh Public School in Johnstown could be closed if space can be found for their students in other schools. This pertains specifically to Prescott's Wellington Public School, which the review suggests could be upgraded and expanded to take in more students. This plan, however, would require additional provincial funding.
Every one of the elementary and secondary schools in the area represented by long-time trustee Bill MacPherson, who represents Ward 9 in the Perth area, are up for discussion, yet he still sees the value and necessity of the review process and the recommendations made by staff. He hoped that McAllister would see the wisdom of backing down from his opposition to the board's decision.
"We have started this process, so I'm going to ask you to withdraw the motion and step out of this gracefully."
McAllister let the motion stand, however, and it went to a vote, with McAllister, Wendy MacPherson and Swan voting for it, and the remaining trustees voting against.
The next step in the process will be to conduct consultations with the public by way of four Accommodation Review Committees. The committees, each headed up by two trustees, will be assigned different parts of the school board's jurisdiction, and each one will host two separate public meetings, one in November and one in January.
More information can be found online at ucdsb.on.ca.