50 New Classrooms, 4 schools closed? Mike Kilfoil’s HRSB Presentation – Imagine Our Schools

My name is Michael Kilfoil and I am a SAC representative from LeMarchant St. Thomas Elementary in Halifax.

It has been well over a year since I first started speaking to the importance of meaningful public consultation to discuss the future of our schools and our children’s education.

In that time we have gone through a process which, while public, fell far short of meaningful and consultative.  I have been a sharp critic of Imagine Our Schools from the beginning for the same reasons Sue Durani summed up so well in her presentation.

Now, even the results of this flawed process are being dismissed and the HRSB has created their response to the IOS 10 Year Facilities Master Plan that puts us right back where we started.  The HRSB staff seeks approval for a plan to consolidate and close community schools.

I’ve attended every meeting of Imagine our Schools for the Citadel Family, and the one thing I have heard throughout the process is this:  the people of Peninsular Halifax want smaller community-based schools, particularly at the elementary level.

The consultants heard this and made it a cornerstone of their plan with very specific recommendations on school size.  Now, the report before us takes this most basic desire and dismisses it.  It is dismissed in the staff response to these specific school sizes on page 3 of the report:

The HRSB staff understands that there are greater economies of
scale and flexibility in educational programming with somewhat larger
school populations.

“Greater economies of scale…with somewhat larger school populations.”
For me, this is the key phrase in the whole document for it demonstrates the underlying theme of this report and the current superintendent’s tenure.

This plan calls for the review and closure of 4 community elementary schools and one junior high on the peninsula.

The arguments for these closures are the same we’ve heard before: declining enrolment, underutilized space and demographic projections of further enrolment drops.

So we have to close schools because there won’t be enough students.

But if we have to close schools because of diminishing student populations why does this plan call for EXPANDING the ones that remain?

Buried in Appendix 6 of the Staff Report you find recommendations for the building of new classrooms across the peninsula:

Inglis St.             5 new classrooms
Sir Charles Tupper        5 new classrooms
Gorsebrook             2 new classrooms
Highland Park             9 new classrooms
St. Stephen’s            2 new classrooms
LeMarchant St Thomas    6 new classrooms

And the list goes on.

In fact if you include the replacement school for Joseph Howe, which would require a minimum of 14 classrooms this HRSB senior staff recommends the construction of no fewer than 50 new classrooms across the peninsula.

It should be noted that these are 50 educational spaces and do not include lunch rooms, music rooms, drama rooms etc.  Each of these classrooms will contain a minimum of 25 students.

If there aren’t going to be any students, why are we expanding the capacity of all of these schools?

I can only surmise that staff believes that there will be students to fill these classrooms; that the remaining schools will exceed their current capacities and require enlargement.

It is worth noting that this recommendation is made by a staff that steadfastly refuses to accept the possibility of HRM by Design succeeding in its goal of increasing the population of the peninsula.  It is my belief that these classrooms won’t be enough, and that we are heading for a future of overcrowded classrooms and trailers.

I said earlier that we were right back where we started in 2006. The real reason for closing 5 schools and enlarging the others is the same reasoning that thought a 750 student elementary school was a good idea:

Economy of Scale – the belief that bigger schools save money.

By consolidating smaller schools the HRSB will save some money and never mind the desires of, or the impact upon, students and the community the HRSB serves.

This plan is a plan for consolidation – plain and simple.

We, the parents and citizens of Halifax, must not accept a plan that flies in the face of the expressed wishes of the people of peninsular Halifax, a plan that diminishes the safety and walkability of our existing schools, a plan that sacrifices quality of education and sense of community in favour of Economy of Scale.

Mike Kilfoil