Parents wait while trustees talk . . . and talk

By Careesa Gee
Trustees of the Ottawa-Carleton Regional School Board met into the early morning hours of Oct. 25, but still failed to reach a final decision on school closures, leaving an anxious public in suspense yet again.

The decision to close nine schools, originally expected to come down on Oct. 23, was moved to Oct. 24 night after committee deliberations took longer than expected, with debate going well past midnight.

But the standing-room only crowd of parents and school delegations that showed up at the Board’s headquarters on Greenbank Road on Oct. 24 were kept waiting again, as an in-camera session about the closures that was supposed to end at 8 p.m. went until almost 10 p.m. Even then, the crowd was told the committee discussions had not finished, and that a final vote was postponed until Oct. 25.

The delays left parents still wondering about the fate of their children’s schools, as any recommendation can still be changed with the Board’s final vote, now expected on Oct. 25.

“Nothing as of yet has been accomplished,” said a member of the delegation from Elgin school at the meeting, refusing to comment further for fear of swaying the balance.

So far, five schools have been approved for closure, and four have been spared, including Elgin Street school. But even when the final vote does come down, the future of the nine schools may still be uncertain as the board will allow the newly elected board in December to revisit the decision.

Elgin’s future may also still change on Oct. 25, when trustee Albert Chambers is expected to put forward two different options involving two Centretown schools not currently on the list of nine. The first would have Centennial School close, with students redirected to Elgin, Hilson Public, and Devonshire, and the second would see the closure of either Elgin or Centennial, with students from either redirected to McNabb, Hilson, and Devonshire. These options were introduced but not formally tabled on Oct. 19.

Delegations from all of the nine schools, originally slated to present their cases to the board on Oct.24, unanimously decided to speak instead on Oct. 25.

That would enable them to hear the committee’s final deliberations.

Despite the inconveniences caused to the numerous members of the media and the frustrated public there hoping for a decision, some people supported the delays.

Shelley Hartman is a member of the school council at Elgin school. She says that although initially the slow process made her want to scream, she has realized that this is how things happen in Canada.

“Canada was not born . . . out of a revolt . . . but from 50 years of negotiations,” she says. “We don’t shoot from the hip and ask questions later. We have a successful country because of these slow, plodding, methodical deliberations.”

Hartman says it is particularly important for Elgin to stay open, in order to keep the downtown core vibrant. Hartman says she made a conscious choice to give up the luxuries of suburbia so that her daughter could attend Elgin school and enjoy the benefits of living downtown. Hartman says, as some trustees have argued as well, that one way to relieve overcrowded suburban schools and fill the empty seats in downtown schools would be to have parents who drive in to work downtown everyday bring their children with them to attend schools like Elgin.

By 11 p.m. on Tuesday, most of the crowd had drifted away, leaving only a dozen or so parents remaining. The tension was starting to show in the increasingly acrimonious exchanges between trustees who had been meeting now for five hours. The meeting was finally adjourned after 1 a.m.

The board was scheduled to resume meeting Wednesday night, with Trustee Albert Chambers also expected to bring forward a disposition motion.