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Trustees delay new school closure studies for fall election

Timing ‘very bad optics,’ Mountain trustee says

By Richard Leitner, News Staff

Elementary school closure reviews scheduled next fall for lower Stoney Creek, the east Mountain and the west downtown are being pushed back a year – a move opponents charge is motivated fears of a voter backlash at the ballot box.

Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board trustees voted 8-3 on Monday to delay the three accommodation reviews, or ARCs as they are popularly called, until after next November’s municipal election.

Wards 11 and 12 trustee Alex Johnstone pushed for the change, arguing it will avoid having new trustees join reviews after they’ve begun and allow time to assess the success of four ARCs currently underway.

The delay is also expected to push back the schedule for an additional seven ARCs, part of the board’s efforts to cut 5,000 empty pupil spaces over the next five years.

“This is about consistency and having the same person throughout the entire process,” Johnstone said, suggesting to not do so would put the ARCs at a disadvantage.

“These are difficult decisions and our communities deserve a trustee who is present throughout the entire process.”

But east Mountain Laura Peddle said recent changes to the ARC process give trustees more of a listening than participatory role, and anyone running for office next fall “will surely be at those meetings” if they want to be elected.

Staff can also bring new trustees up to speed at an orientation session if necessary, she said, questioning how voters will view the move.

“It may be perceived that (trustees) are using their current positions to avoid making difficult decisions during an election year,” said Peddle, who participated in the meeting by phone.

“It’s somewhat unfair to the elementary ARCs that are going on right now and it’s overall unfair to the system because we’re delaying a year to get started very difficult work,” she said. “The election looms larger and larger and I believe this is very bad optics.”

But board chair Jessica Brennan said the delay won’t change the commitment to the ARCs or harm affected schools.

“I just want to be absolutely clear that something that needs to be done will be done. Nothing is being neglected,” she said.

“There is some real good reasoning around not doing it starting in September and certainly, as a system, allowing us the opportunity to fully form through the implementation stages of the ones that are currently (underway).”

The delay is a reprieve for Lisgar, Richard Beasley and Lawfield on the Mountain, Collegiate Avenue, Eastdale, Green Acres, Memorial, Mountain View and R.L. Hyslop in Stoney Creek, and nine schools in the west downtown.

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