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Hamilton politicians say school closure process a failure

 By Kevin Werner, News Staff

 Hamilton politicians may give education trustees a passing grade, but the province is failing in its efforts to provide a proper process as they close elementary and secondary schools.

Councillors unanimously approved a motion at their March 26 council meeting calling on the Liberals to halt the school closure process in the city and create a better accommodate method that includes consulting with the immediate community.

“They are basing (the closures) on dollars and cents not education,” said Ward 4 councillor Sam Merulla, who introduced the motion.

Stoney Creek councillor Brad Clark said the province will reject the municipality’s motion, arguing it has other priorities. But that sentiment shouldn’t stopHamiltonfrom demanding a solution to what is a broken education process.

“The system has to be fixed,” he said. “We are raising the flag.”

Politicians were reluctant to blame trustees for the recent recommendations to close 11 elementary schools across the city. A decision on those schools is scheduled to be held in June. They understood that trustees have to work within a limited funding program.

But that doesn’t help that Ward 7 will see Hill Park Secondary School close, as well as Barton, which is located in Ward 6, said Mountain councillor Scott Duvall.

“They have a bad funding formula,” said Duvall. “It’s a real screw up. Slow down, re-think what you are doing.”

Councillors lamented that whenever a school property is slated to close, residents urge politicians to purchase the land to preserve the property as green space. But the city only has limited finances to buy all of the school lands that are expected to be closed over the next few years.

Over the last decade the city has spent about $20 million buying about 50 acres of former board properties, said Ward 5 councillor Chad Collins. By 2015, Collins says the city will spend another $20 million to purchase 60 more acres of school board land. The total, he said, is equivalent of buying the entire Gage Park area, plus another half of it.

“It has put a strain on our budget,” he said.

Mountain councillor Tom Jackson was more critical towards trustees, arguing they should have done more to voice their displeasure at the funding formula.

“Why haven’t trustees asked us to lend our weight to their pleas to the province?” he said.

Ward 1 councillor Brian McHattie, who is also running for mayor, has already reached out to the public board’s chair Dundas trustee Jessica Brennan requesting a meeting be held between board and city representatives to discuss the issue.

He said the accommodation review process is flawed, because it doesn’t protect the surrounding community.

“There are other uses (for the schools),” he said.

 

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