Proposed School Closures Create Conflict and Conversation

Two Burlington High Schools face the possibility of closure.

Lester B Pearson High School and Central High School have, due to declining attendance been recommended for closure.  While nothing is set in stone, there is a lengthy review process underway.

A Performance Accommodation Review was initiated in 2015 when attendances at these

Note the high utilization number north of the QEW

two schools declined below 65%. But with the completion of the Alton Village Community in our recent memory coupled with the overcrowding at Hayden Secondary School, Pearson has become a contentious point for the board.

Groups like Save LBPHS have made their voices heard throughout this process. We’ve followed them since Entrepreneur and Mother Amy DSouza founded the movement.  In a recent e-mail she writes, “Pearson is Hayden’s solution to overcrowding, over use of portable, limited parking and the growing demand on the new school with the new developments and multiple families moving into the area.”

Hayden’s Attendance Escalates

This slide was taken for the final PAR report presentation of the board website

That statement is worth investigating, because of Hayden already at 118% capacity (2015).  When the school opened in 2013 it began with grades 9 and 10.  Grade 11 and 12 were added in the subsequent years. An abundance of feeder schools have inflated the population over the 1200 cap.  There are a dozen portables on the grounds that impede much of the parking lot.  That lot serves not only the school but Haber Recreation Centre and the park across the street.

So how did this to happen?

There are currently five elementary schools that feed into Hayden. Of those five, three see 90% of their grade eight population head there; this according to a report published in the Burlington Gazette. Only one and a half elementary schools feed into Pearson; furthermore their catchment area (meaning attendance boundary) stretches south into the area between Mainway and the QEW (Primarily Industrial).

Hindsight is 20/20: Looking back at LTAP 2010-2011

Every year the School Board releases a Long Term Accommodation Plan (LTAP).  This is them trying to peer into the future and provide themselves with a safety net in case of unexpected growth. In the 2010-2011 LTAP they were rationalizing the construction of Hayden.  The board saw it (Hayden) as a way to accommodate the new subdivisions in north Burlington, according to the LTAP. But there was data there to suggest a future problem.

Taken from the Halton District School Board LTAP 2010-2011:

   Moreover given the capacity of the schools, it is projected that once the new high school opens there will be 2009 secondary pupil places available in 2012 which increase to 2544 places by 2020. It would appear that there is a need to address the overabundance of pupil places within Burlington as a result of the construction of the new school.

So in 2010 they may have had the data needed anticipate this issue. That’s not meant to knock current Halton Director of Education Stuart Miller who in an earlier article said, “The argument can be made that when we were building Hayden we should’ve known somewhat of what we were doing now back then.”

Trends Difficult to Predict

Therein lies the theme, ‘hindsight is 20/20.’ In an effort to clarify some of the Save LBPHS points I spoke to Director of Planning Mary-Lou Tanner and Alison Enns. “It’s going to be hard in this new era,” says Enns. “Working with the school board trying to understand how these trends play out.”  Tanner adds that the board does work with the city to try to predict the trends of school age population. Current utilization data (number of students v number of seats) suggests a downswing.  However, DSouza says that many in the Headon Forest neighborhood are downsizing and relocating after their children age out. The question could then be asked that if you were to close Pearson, would you be faced with a lack of seating as new families enter the area.

There are currently two developments breaking ground in North Burlington.  One in Alton Village and the other at Guelph Line and Dundas; while Enns says that these developments will contain  medium and high density housing, that does not serve as an indication of future student population growth.

The more we dig into the proposed closures, the more we come to see that Hayden is the catalyst for change. In Special Review Assessment (SRA) 101 (a document used to rationalize the reorganization of secondary schools) it states that, “Generally speaking, there is about 10-15% flexibility in total capacity of [Hayden].” So in three years, Hayden has already exceeded that and constructed a dozen portables.

Getting There

Courtesy of Amy DSouza

The issue of busing has also been a key point of attack for Save LBPHS. Current board policy says that secondary school students located more than 3.2km away are eligible for busing. If the board were to re-shuffle Hayden’s catchment as well as close Pearson it could present a further issue.  When we asked Miller if extra busing would be provided, he said it wouldn’t.

The proposed closure date of both Lester B Pearson and Central is June of 2018.  There is still much discussion to be had and debate to unfold. If you are interested in supporting ether of these school’s efforts to stay open, they are both very active on social media.  They plan to hold regular rallies as well.

About the Author James Gike