Ques­tions, ques­tions … schools de­bate will re­con­vene

Hal­ton pub­lic board trus­tees grill staff about clo­sures

The Hamilton Spectator - - LOCAL - TIM WHITNELL BURLING­TON —

Hal­ton pub­lic school board di­rec­tor Stu­art Miller al­ready knew he was in for a long night, but he ap­peared taken aback when the first ques­tion by a trustee didn’t per­tain to any rec­om­men­da­tion in his 282-page re­port to the board on declining en­rol­ment and stu­dent pro­gram eq­uity is­sues.

From there, it was al­most four hours of ques­tions from trus­tees.

But it wasn’t long enough. So they’ll get back at it next week.

Trus­tees voted 7-4 to end Wed­nes­day’s meet­ing just af­ter 11:30 p.m. and re­con­vene May 24 to pick up where they left off in the on­go­ing dis­cus­sion about Burling­ton’s high school ac­com­mo­da­tion re­view.

Fol­low­ing six pub­lic del­e­ga­tions about the di­rec­tor’s rec­om­mended clo­sure of Lester B. Pearson and Robert Bate­man high schools — for 2018 and 2019 re­spec­tively — Miller waited for the ex­pected bar­rage of ques­tions from the 11 trus­tees.

Burling­ton trustee Amy Col­lard was first up and asked him if board staff had con­sid­ered part­ner­ing pro­grams be­tween Bate­man and Nel­son to keep the former open.

The di­rec­tor is rec­om­mends Nel­son to ac­cept Bate­man’s stu­dents, in­clud­ing its large con­tin­gents of spe­cial-needs and skilled­trades pro­gram stu­dents.

“We’ve heard from about 60 del­e­ga­tions and a num­ber have asked that we look at part­ner­ing Bate­man and Nel­son and ex­pand­ing (school) bound­aries for Bate­man. Some of these ideas are not in­cluded in your re­port …,” Col­lard said.

Miller hes­i­tated in re­spond­ing and, seem­ingly ex­as­per­ated, told Col­lard he wanted to fo­cus first on the rec­om­men­da­tions in the re­port.

“We are al­ways open to al­ter­na­tives and pos­si­bil­i­ties.”

That didn’t sit well with Col­lard, who then asked how trus­tees can make “an in­formed de­ci­sion” if they can get spe­cific in­for­ma­tion from staff.

“The two-cam­pus idea (of Nel­son and Bate­man). Could we look into it? Yes, but we haven’t had a de­bate on our rec­om­men­da­tion,” Miller coun­tered.

Fa­cil­i­ties su­per­in­ten­dent Gerry Cullen jumped in and said he’s heard many del­e­ga­tions ask how one or both high schools can be saved but ob­served that part­ner­ing doesn’t ad­dress the over­rid­ing is­sue of too many empty seats places in Burling­ton’s high schools, par­tic­u­larly south of the QEW.

Trus­tees con­tin­ued ask about the cost and ef­fort to move spe­cial­ized equip­ment from Bate­man to Nel­son, for pro­grams like the culi­nary arts and skilled trades, and whether there will be the space at Nel­son to ac­com­mo­date new in­fra­struc­ture for two wood shops, a com­mer­cial kitchen and au­to­body re­pair and paint­ing.

“These things are very trans­fer­able but we’d need the space,” said David Boag, the board’s as­so­ci­ate ed­u­ca­tion di­rec­tor.

Mil­ton trustee Donna Danielli said they’ve heard “a great deal” of con­cern from par­ents about how stu­dents at Bate­man with learn­ing and de­vel­op­men­tal dis­abil­i­ties would be tran­si­tioned to Nel­son.

School board staff have “much ex­pe­ri­ence in tran­si­tion­ing,” ed­u­ca­tion su­per­in­ten­dent Mark Zon­n­eveld re­sponded.

“At Nel­son, we’ll do it even bet­ter again. Each time we are learn­ing.”

The Bate­man-to-Nel­son tran­si­tion, how­ever, could take longer than past ef­forts, not­ing it must be “very in­di­vid­u­al­ized,” Zon­n­eveld added.

Oakville trustee Joanna Oliver asked if it was fea­si­ble to move Bate­man’s spe­cialty pro­grams to Alder­shot high school, which is at the other end of the city.

Su­per­in­ten­dent Scott Po­drebarac said that would re­sult in a sig­nif­i­cant in­crease in the num­ber of stu­dents bused and the time they spend on a bus.

Mil­ton trustee Kim Graves asked if clos­ing schools is re­quired in or­der to re­ceive pro­vin­cial funding from the On­tario gov­ern­ment to build new schools.

“No,” said Domenico Ren­zella, the board’s se­nior man­ager of plan­ning. “New schools are funded based on need in a spe­cific area.”

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