With all the continued discussion in education, it is still hard for me to believe what happened in Owen Sound last year and what continues to happen. The fact is the Bluewater District School Board gambled with the education of our children by putting forth, in their words, "an aggressive plan" to receive $51 million in financing for the town of Owen Sound, instead of a more sensible plan
which would maintain OSCVI as a high school. This was all sold with the grand plans of one new high school and one new elementary school. (Replacing the former West Hill and Hillcrest elementary school.)
According to the BWDSB's 2016 Capital Priorities Business Case Submission, both of these schools have over an 80% Facility Condition Index (FCI).The Ministry of Education determines an FCI above 65% to be "prohibitive to repair". The report reveals that West Hill repairs needed (2014-2015) came in at a whopping $26.9 million with a Facility Replacement Value of $31.9 million. Hillcrest needed $10.6 million in repairs with a replacement value of $13 million. These buildings are tear-downs; instead, the board has chosen to populate them with our students, doubling the enrollment.
The report describes the former West Hill as "...one of the Board's worst schools in terms of condition and renewal needs." Yet this Board chose to amalgamate these kids at break-neck speed into a structure "prohibitive to repair" instead of taking a common sense approach.
They should've asked for $12 million to replace Hillcrest and $10 million to put an addition on to OSCVI for the secondary students. Total request would've come in at $22 million. Yet this Board continued to deny this option in favour of the "carrot" of a new school. With a little reading and understanding, they should know this kind of money wasn't available and the chances of Owen Sound getting all that funding were slim at best. The Ministry dangled $475 million to boards for new builds and additions and received requests totalling $2.6 billion. One in five requests were rewarded. We lost the gamble.
How much did Owen Sound receive from the Ministry of Education for their "aggressive" plan? A total of $13.5 million. $8.5 million slated for West Hill. The Board appeared quite delighted with that figure. As a parent, I'm far less excited. It's a drop in the bucket for a school past its useful life, poorly maintained and in an obvious state of disrepair.
$5 million of that money is to refurbish OSCVI and for 55 pre-school child-care spaces. The problem is, none of that accounts for the complete waste of money of turning a high school into an elementary school. Science rooms, music practice rooms, the green house and other specialized areas, to be ripped out. A fully-equipped weight room sold for scrap. Not to mention the hard work of the alumni that raised the funds for the current auditorium.
Owen Sound had a "new" high school which was built with a footprint in the design for an addition. Instead, these kids were kicked out and put in a building beyond repair. What does this do to a student's morale? The BWDSB continues to deny there is a problem, but families and staff are quite aware. Most are too tired to continue to voice their opinions to a Board that isn't listening. Most just leave.
As a parent, I'm left questioning the ability of the BWDSB to serve our students. Their choice to kick the secondary kids out of their school before funding was confirmed, was unreasonable and an obvious tactic which meant they wouldn't be going back. On top of that, they knew in September they wouldn't be getting the funding, but didn't tell the public until the end of October.
The BWDSB's complete lack of concern over the learning environment of our secondary students still has me in shock. As Trustee Jim Dawson so kindly pointed out to us last year, "Kids in Eritrea learn in storage containers." Well, I think I pay more taxes than they do in Eritrea. And we should not be comparing the educational opportunities of our children to the worst conditions to be found on the planet.
As many parents have before me, I've lost complete faith in this school board. Their chasing after funding dollars with a total disregard for the mental health and environment of our students shows a complete lack of "duty of care". I can no longer entrust my children to their stewardship. They have failed. We follow the many other families that have already left BWDSB, to the Catholic School Board. At the very least, their building is not disintegrating around them. (The BWDSB continues to have their own problem with math, denying that more kids are leaving the BWDSB for the Catholic Board when the numbers are obvious.)
Minister Mitzie Hunter feels these decisions are best made locally. The only problem is they aren't being made locally. Our trustee, Marg Gaviller, did little to nothing to engage with our municipality and the night before the vote, still had not decided how she would vote on the OSCVI closing decision. The rest of the plan was voted on by trustees who don't live in our area and are more concerned with protecting their own turf, and a Director of Education more interested in polishing his resume than in supporting the students and families he is supposed to serve. (Trustees Dan Wong and Marilyn McComb were the exception.)
This Board gambled on the future of secondary students in Owen Sound. They promised us a carrot, but instead we got the stick.
Diane Ferguson, CPA, CA