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COMMENT: Public high school is about giving parents a real choice

A public high school for Stittsville has finally hit #1 on the public school board’s priority list.

At tonight’s Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) meeting, parents, trustees, the local councillor and even a representative from Jack Maclaren’s office were all singing from the same songbook. Now we’ll see if the Ministry of Education joins in.

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This issue has been like a broken record. Tonight’s meeting was the latest episode in a 20-year push to get a public high school built in Stittsville. The project has been climbing the board’s capital priority list for the past decade, reaching #2 last year.

“We are discouraged and disheartened to be back here again,” parent Jennifer Smith told trustees.

The OCDSB’s priority list is mostly symbolic. The Ontario Ministry of Education decides what projects actually get funding. They’ve skipped over Stittsville before and they could do it again. Board staff don’t even know when — or if — the Ministry will ask them for the list, or how much funding will be available.

Chair Shirley Seward summed up the issue perfectly: “We have four school boards in Ontario because parents deserve a choice. In the Stittsville context, choice is limited.”

Currently, public high school students bus to Richmond. It’s not exactly a hardship, but it’s enough of an inconvenience that a significant number of public students switch over to a Catholic school rather than ride the big yellow bus to Richmond for four years.

In a survey done last year by supporters of the public high school, about 60% of parents said they would switch from the Public board to the Catholic board if there was no public high school in Stittsville.

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There were about 60 Stittsville parents at tonight’s meeting, many wearing red, who came out to show their support.  Parents Jennifer Smith and Jenny Guth made presentations, along with Councillor Shad Qadri and, to the surprise of many, a representative from MPP Jack Maclaren‘s office.

Qadri said he is concerned that the message coming from the board to the province on this issue needs to be stronger.  He said that he’s working on setting up a meeting with MacLaren and Liberal MPPs from the Ottawa area, and asked trustee Lynn Scott and the board chair to attend.

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Schools are an integral part to a healthy neighbourhood.  The master plan for the new Fernbank area sets aside 6% of the available land for 11 new schools, including three high schools.  But a lack of funding often means it can be decades – or even a generation – before those schools actually get built. In the meantime, new neighbourhoods miss out on having an important piece of community infrastructure.

Trustee Mark Fisher acknowledged that the board is at the mercy of the Province when it comes to funding. He said that the board is handcuffed when it comes to capital projects, and asked Qadri if he would support new education development charges (EDCs) to help fund a project like the Stittsville Public High School.  Qadri said he would support the idea if the board felt it would help get a high school built.

EDCs would be a significant source of revenue for cash-strapped school boards in Ontario.  A levy on new residential construction could fund renovations, maintenance, and new schools.

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One surprise at the meeting was the appearance of Michael Bailey from MPP Jack Maclaren’s office.  He read a short letter from Maclaren to the Minister of Education, asking the ministry to support the OCDSB’s recommendation for a Stittsville public high school.

That’s quite a change of tune for Maclaren, who’s never shown much enthusiasm for the project before.

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Besides Stittsville, there were three other projects approved for the priority list tonight:

  • An addition to AY Jackson school in Kanata, required regardless of whether or not a Stittsville high school gets funding.
  • An addition to Viscount Alexander Public School.
  • An addition to Elmdale Public School.

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Tonight’s unanimous decision by trustees was an important symbolic statement from the school board. Hypothetically, if the province pays attention and approves funding this fall, it would still be 2 to 3 years before a school opens. Many parents tonight (me included) are hoping that’s not too late for our kids to attend.

Until it does get approval, you’ll keep hearing a familiar refrain from parents in the public school system: We need a public high school, now.

 


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3 thoughts on “COMMENT: Public high school is about giving parents a real choice”

  1. I hope Stittsville parents realize that a new school might actually be closer to Kanata than their neighbourhood in Stittsville. I find many people forget that Stittsville extends all the way to Terry Fox Drive. Residents might be hoping for a local school their kids can walk to when the new school might by kilometres away on Fernbank and Terry Fox, a fair distance from Timbermere or Jackson Trails.

    A new school begs the question: What happens to South Carleton in Richmond and if that school closes, what happens to students in Richmond?

    1. Good question Bill – the board’s accommodation review will give a better picture of where all the students currently attending South Carleton would end up. South Carleton could very well stay open, to serve the growing population in the south part of Ottawa.

  2. It may have been a surprise to have a representative from Jack Maclaren’s office address trustees, but the message of support was lacklustre at best. I appreciate that any support from our MPP is an improvement over what has essentially been a lack of his presence on this file, but I expect more from our provincial representative. Stittsville needs — and deserves — a more active provincial advocate. I hope Mr. Maclaren will, at the very least, show up in person at the meeting proposed by Councillor Qadri, and perhaps be motivated to build on last night’s effort.

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