The Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board is being accused of moving too quickly and providing misleading information on a proposal to close three elementary schools on the central Mountain next June.
Parents wasted no time in ripping into the plan to shutter Queensdale, Eastmount Park and Linden Park schools when finally given the chance to ask questions from the floor toward the end of a three-hour meeting on Tuesday evening.
About 150 people packed the gymnasium at Cardinal Heights school for the first of four planned public meetings between now and January, many of them sporting red shirts to show support for keeping Queensdale open.
The closure plan, crafted by board staff as part of an accommodation review that will try to cut about 825 surplus pupil spaces at eight central Mountain schools, would see Queensdale students shift to George L. Armstrong.
Amy Townsend, who has two daughters attending Queensdale, protested that Armstrong isn’t wheelchair accessible and has such poor air conditioning on the third floor her other daughter suffered heat stroke there last June.
“How do you guys warrant taking kids out of Queensdale, when it is in excellent shape?” she demanded, questioning how Armstrong can be made ready for Queensdale students by next September.
“These meetings should have been taking place last school year, not now. You’re squeezing a process in, in one school year. You should have been taking a couple of school years to do this to put in a plan in place for everybody.”
Other parents disputed data displayed on an overhead projector that showed the bill for needed repairs at Queensdale is nearly two-thirds the cost of a new school, arguing the assessment didn’t take into account $5 million in renovations since 2006.
When a board official acknowledged the number was wrong – that repairs represented about 55 per cent of the cost of a new school – several on hand called for an independent assessment of the school’s condition.
Many also challenged board projections that enrolment will continue to decline at six of the eight schools, with Pauline Johnson and Ridgemount being the lone exceptions.
“We don’t have a lot of faith in our board of education and our trustees,” said Marney Campbell, a Cardinal Heights parent member of a volunteer accommodation review committee (ARC) that will try to come up with its own plan, to loud applause.
“I think the majority of us probably feel the same way. I don’t think there’s a lot of trust from the board and with our trustees because we’re not getting the answers we want or that we’re looking for,” she said.
“We’re passionate about our schools; that’s why we’re here. We’re passionate about our children; that’s why we’re here.”
School superintendent Michael Prendergast, who is the ARC’s non-voting chair, promised that the board will ensure all data is correct and said the existing assessments of schools’ repair needs follow Ministry of Education guidelines.
He said afterwards the tight timelines for the review, which calls for a final decision on any closures in May, can always be extended by trustees as they see fit, including to accommodate alternative options put forth by the ARC.
“The timelines are only as tight as the committee’s recommendations. The committee may make recommendations that extend the process into 2017 or 2018,” Prendergast said.
“I think the bottom line is that we can’t continue to do business the way we’re doing it because we can’t afford it.”
Under the staff closure plan, students at Queensdale school and at Eastmount Park living north of Queensdale Avenue would shift to George L. Armstrong, with the remainder of Eastmount Park students going to Franklin Road.
Armstrong and Franklin Road schools would both add two full-day kindergarten rooms, apart from any other upgrades.
Students at Linden Park living east of Upper Wellington Street would meanwhile shift to Pauline Johnson, with those to the west of Wellington attending Ridgemount, which would add six regular and two full-day kindergarten classrooms.
The plan also seeks funding for a new school at Cardinal Heights and would see students there move to an undetermined school in 2016 until the new Bobolink Road building opens the following year.
The new school would hold 550 students in kindergarten through Grade 8 and result in the closure of neighbouring Pauline Johnson.