The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) is conducting city-wide student learning and pupil accommodation reviews. As part of this process, three east end secondary schools - Colonel By, Rideau and Gloucester High Schools - have been evaluated. Board staff is recommending Rideau High School for closure as early as September 2017.
At the December 2016 OCDSB meeting, while acknowledging the difficult budgetary pressures the school board is facing, I suggested there were some key missing pieces in the analysis to date including: the kindergarten to grade 8 landscape in the catchment; the significance of this school as a community hub and resource centre, particularly for vulnerable groups, and; the expected population growth in the area in the medium term. A version of my statement can be viewed below.
Statement to the OCDSB
Good evening, my name is Tobi Nussbaum. I am the City Councillor for Rideau-Rockcliffe, the ward in which Rideau High School, recommended by staff for closure, is located. It is also a secondary school that serves the diverse neighbourhoods of Vanier, Overbrook, Manor Park, Forbes, Carson Grove, Cardinal Glen, Fairhaven, Thorncliffe Park, Castle Heights and shortly, the growing community of Wateridge, the former Rockcliffe Air Base.
I understand the need to contain and reduce expenditures in the face of budget pressure. So, I am not here to tell you to save the school in my backyard and go close one in someone else’s. On the contrary. I actually do believe there may be a school closure – and therefore budget saving - opportunity in the catchment area I just described. I just don’t believe you have the necessary information before you to decide now that it should be Rideau High School.
Let me explain the two reasons why.
First, staff has not evaluated the K-8 landscape in the catchment area. This is a missing piece in the Eastern Area Review. The Western Area Review encompasses a family of schools that includes four secondary schools as well as the elementary schools that feed into these schools. This more comprehensive approach allows for a greater variety of solutions to be implemented in response to excess pupil spaces, for example, by combining grade seven and eight with secondary schools. The Eastern Area Review, by contrast, evaluates and makes recommendations for secondary schools without a parallel or prior evaluation of the feeder schools.
Yet all of the five feeders schools - Manor Park Public School (JK to 6), Queen Elizabeth Public School (JK to 8), Queen Mary Public School (JK to 6), R.E. Wilson Public School (JK to 6) and Carson Grove Elementary School (JK to 5) – are located within a 2 km radius of Rideau High. This is a tight density that suggests, at least initially, that there may be consolidation and alignment options within the feeder schools to achieve the required budget savings.
Conducting the secondary review before the elementary review puts the proverbial cart before the horse. It provides you - the decision makers - with an incomplete picture of future needs for the catchment and limits the Board’s recommendation options to closure without consideration of more creative solutions like adding grade 7 and 8 to Rideau High School or establishing a French immersion program to use just two examples.
Second, there is no data in the staff report on the expected population growth in the catchment area beyond a limited 9 year planning horizon. At the northern end of the catchment, Wateridge Village expects to add almost 10,000 new residents over the coming 15-20 years, with the first few hundred moving in next year. Provision is being made by the Board to build a new elementary – and thus another feeder – school in the catchment.
At the south of the catchment, Transit Oriented Development plans anticipate increased development around two new LRT stations in the current Rideau High catchment, Tremblay and St-Laurent. Projections for people living and working in the Tremblay Station area are expected to more than double to 12,500 by 2031 and projections for the St-Laurent area are expected to increase by over 50% by 2031.
There is no evidence that these important demographic projections - all within a 15 year planning horizon - were accounted for in the staff report. It is difficult to imagine how the Board would be expected to make a decision on closure without taking that data into account.
In summary, the absence of analysis on both any K-8 accommodation review and the projected future demographics of the catchment suggests the future of Rideau High School is not ready to be decided. I strongly recommend you put the recommendation on hold until such time as staff has done the require analysis. Again, I understand the need to realize budget savings. The Board and staff of the OCDSB are facing real constraints. But surely you want to make a decision as serious as a school closure – with all of its significant impacts on a community that includes some of our most vulnerable fellow citizens – with a full understanding of the alternate closure and consolidation options and future needs of the catchment.