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‘Hybrid plan’ scales back east-Hamilton school closures

Opponents say decision ignores fiscal realities

By Richard Leitner, News Staff

Hamilton public school board trustees have rejected calls to close four east-end elementary schools, opting instead to shutter just Woodward and Roxborough Park next June.

Ward 5 representative Todd White pushed for the “community hybrid plan,” which will spend at least $4 million from selling the two sites to upgrade five surviving schools.

Both staff and a voluntary accommodation review committee recommended a more aggressive approach that would have also closed Rosedale and Parkdale schools, and replaced Viscount Montgomery with a new school.

White said his plan, approved on Monday by a 7-4 vote, will put the remaining schools at between 70 and 80 per cent of capacity, giving the board more time to assess future enrolment changes and “act accordingly.”

Doing so reflects the wishes of the community to slow down the process, he said, acknowledging $4 million won’t go very far to address the expensive repairs needed at four of the five remaining schools.

“This is a transition that the community can follow and that it can recover from,” said White, whose plan drew boisterous cheers from the public gallery.

But opponents said closing just two schools avoids tough but necessary decisions and won’t provide enough money to fix up the remaining ones or give the community a new school.

West-end trustee Judith Bishop said Parkdale, Viscount Montgomery and W.H. Ballard alone require nearly $17 million in repairs, money the board doesn’t have.

“That threat of closure will continue to hang over them and our board,” she said, citing board figures showing Parkdale has an annual operating deficit of $146,000.

“We have to remember we don’t have the funds to invest within the classrooms and invest in all our building and schools.”

Trustee Ray Mulholland, who represents six of the seven schools, argued the board should heed the city’s call for a moratorium on closures.

He said the pause would provide time for “a comprehensive study of the educational needs of all the area children, but also to embrace the offer of city council members to participate as partners” to develop a plan.

But board chair Jessica Brennan said White’s plan is a good compromise, even if it will require work, including on a proposed boundary review and call to find community uses for empty spaces at Ballard, which is at two-thirds of capacity.

“Perhaps lack of decision-making over the last 20 or 25 years has brought us to this point,” she said. “I do think, though, that this is a hybrid and a compromise, and that we will find new ways to bring new energy to this cluster of schools over the next number of years.”

Trustees have already voted to close Bell-Stone elementary school in Binbrook, and Spencer Valley and Dr. John Seaton in West Flamborough. The latter plan would also rebuild at Greensville and Beverly Central.

They will vote this Monday on closure options for the central Mountain that could shutter up to three of eight schools next June – Eastmount Park, Linden Park and Cardinal Heights.

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