Too many kids and not enough space in urban Ottawa schools

The issue of overcrowded elementary schools in the urban core and the fringes of the urban core came up more than a few times during the School Board election campaign last fall.  It was not then and is not now a situation that has an easy solution.  The Citizen re-visited the problem in an article the other day on the space problems in a few schools in Old Ottawa South, the Glebe and Centretown.

The problem is most acute at First Avenue Public School in the northeast part of the Glebe, which was built to hold 400 students and currently has more than 550. But Hopewell Avenue Public School in Old Ottawa South and Elgin Street Public School in Centretown are also at or over capacity. Meanwhile — and in part because French immersion programs are wildly popular with many parents — English-oriented schools in the same neighbourhoods are under capacity.

The school board must come up with at least a stopgap for this September because First Avenue simply cannot fit any of the 77 junior kindergarten students currently expected to enrol.

To their credit, the Board and staff is holding a public consultation session to discuss some of the options that will hopefully mitigate the problem in the short term. But these suggestions are indeed only short term solutions – and are recognised as such by Zone 9 Trustee Rob Campbell:
“We’re just looking at temporary measures for September 2011 that will buy us time so we can all sit down and have a much longer, more in-depth discussion about more permanent measures,” he said.

I’m sure that Trustee Campbell and other urban Trustees will do their very best to ensure that decisions are taken that are in the best interests of the students and families of these schools, but some serious questions remain.

Why didn’t the OCDSB see this coming? And if they did, why didn’t they act before this?

This is planning short-sightedness at its finest and, combined with chronic underfunding by the province (mostly due to the existence of our wasteful duplication of school systems) is what has led to this situation. About a decade ago, staff recommended the closure of some urban schools because of projections that led them to believe that the urban supply of students was on the decline. The Board intervened, and rightly so, but why was there not a further step taken (maybe there was and I’m simply not aware of it) to look a little more deeply into the assumptions leading to the conclusions ten years ago?

Furthermore, was no one at the Board listening to the parents and the principals at these and other urban and urban fringe schools over the past several years. They would have seen this crisis unfolding before their eyes!

Has no one noticed that the “temporary” portables used at many, many schools are still there decades later? Could this not have provided some clues that there may be a flaw in the analyses about the demand and supply of education services?

(And now today we are told that a school had to close for the day due to problems with its boiler. So not only are our public system school overcrowded in many cases, they are falling apart!)

Again, I am sure that some Trustees have done what they could to make their voices heard about overcrowding and decaying infrastructure, yet to no avail.

Yet, ya know, I have to wonder – if this were a suburban issue instead of an urban one – whether more attention would have been paid to the pleas of the school communities.  The focus at City Hall has been one that has favoured the areas outside of the Greenbelt so why shouldn’t the OCDSB be any different?

Just sayin’….

Update:

OCDSB Chair McKenzie responds to questions about aging infrastructure in core schools.

Two key things to notice in this vid – first, she does not answer a direct question about non-core schools being prioritized above suburban schools. Then right at the end she says:

In the past, we have not put a priority on some of our infrastructures.

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