Centretown schools spared

By Kelly Patrick

Despite long-held fears low enrolment could make them prime candidates for the chopping block, Centretown schools will be spared the axe in the next round of school closures.

After 11 months of studying the city’s schools and consulting parents, staff at the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board presented supervisor Kyle Murray with a 700-page plan to save the board $7 million a year at a public meeting Monday.

The board staff recommended seven new schools be opened, and 14 elementary schools and one high school be closed – none in Centretown.

“I certainly expected there to be more of my schools on the list,” said Somerset-Kitchissippi trustee Joan Spice after the meeting at Sir Robert Borden High School.

During a series of community meetings leading to the report’s release, Centretown’s Centennial Public School and Elgin Street Public School – which narrowly escaped closure with a reprieve from trustees in 2000 – were frequently cited as low-capacity downtown schools likely to make the list.

A change in the report’s mandate could be behind the pardon granted to Centretown schools.

When the report was launched last October, board staff planned to eliminate 3,000 student spaces at under-used schools in the Greenbelt to save money for new schools in the over-crowded suburbs. In the end, it decided to cut 1,595 spaces.

“It became obvious to us as the year progressed that we would not be able to fulfill our original mandate without seriously disrupting students,” said Michael Carson, the board’s planning and transportation manager.

Although no Centretown schools will close, some Centretown students may have to start at a new school next fall.

The board recommended Devonshire Community Public School – which serves about 30 children from Centretown – close, sending its students to Connaught and Fisher Park public schools.

Although Devonshire has room for 335 junior kindergarten to Grade 6 pupils, only 199 students attended the school last year.

“I’m just devastated. It just confirms our worst fears,” says Devonshire parent council co-chair Jennifer McKenzie. The Centretown mother has three young children attending the school.

McKenzie and parents like her can still fight the closures because neither Devonshire’s fate, nor the fate of any school on the list, is sealed.

Board supervisor Murray isn’t expected to make his final decision until Nov. 24, after hearing from parents and trustees at meetings over the next two months.

But if Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals win the Oct. 2 provincial election, the board’s recommendations could be scrapped because the Liberals have vowed to cap classes from junior kindergarten to Grade 3 at 20.