School board chair hopes discussion may lead to better process
By Richard Leitner, News Staff
A delegation of Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board trustees will meet with city councillors to discuss their calls for a moratorium on school closures.
Board chair Jessica Brennan said officials on both sides are working on arranging a meeting of a joint city-school boards subcommittee that last convened in August.
She said trustees won’t halt the existing accommodation reviews that could close up to 11 elementary schools across the city, including three on the central Mountain, but do want to discuss the issue.
Brennan, who wrote the mayor’s office to request the meeting, said the reviews are driven by “the realities” of a provincial funding formula that doesn’t provide money to maintain empty classroom spaces, but she also wants to hear councillors’ perspectives.
She noted trustees already delayed by one year the next round of elementary closure reviews that were originally scheduled to begin this fall. Her board is trying to cut 5,000 surplus pupil spaces throughout the system.
“Councillors… might say, ‘Oh, my gosh, there’s a possibility four or five schools could close. How can I, as a councillor, even figure out a way to buy that property or figure out what would be good use of that property?’” Brennan said.
“I think it’s worth having a conversation with city council to figure out what would be, I don’t know, some new process we could create or new understanding of each other’s processes and how we can maybe dovetail them for community benefit.”
Unlike with the recent round of high school closure reviews, city councillors weren’t included as non-voting members of the elementary review committees.
Brennan said that may have kept councillors more out of the loop than in the past, but even their attendance at the high school reviews was spotty.
She said the noteworthy exception was Stoney Creek councillor Maria Pearson, who attended virtually every meeting of a lower-city review even though the school in her ward, OrchardPark, was never threatened with closure.
The joint committee’s members include Brennan, vice-chair Todd White and west Mountain trustee Wes Hicks for the board and Mayor Bob Bratina, Ward 1 councillor Brian McHattie and Ward 11 councillor Brenda Johnson for the city.
Efforts to arrange the meeting come as trustees are set to host the first of four evenings of public delegations on Monday – one dedicated to a West Glanbrook review that could close Binbrook’s Bell-Stone school, whose enrolment is about 35 per cent of capacity.
It will be followed by delegation evenings for west Flamborough on April 29, the city’s lower east end on May 5 and the central Mountain on May 6.
Trustees will then consider the input and are scheduled to make final decisions by mid-June.