Emotions ran high on Monday night after the Lester B. Pearson School Board (LBPSB) voted to close Lakeside Academy in Lachine and the International Language Centre in Dorval, and merge eight schools on the island of Montreal. Closures and mergers will be effective July 1, 2016.

Thorndale Elementary in Pierrefonds will merge into Greendale Elementary, a proposal the two schools submitted as part of consultation. Orchard Elementary in LaSalle will merge into Saint-Lawrence Elementary school. Riverview Elementary will merge into Verdun Elementary. Sherwood Forest Elementary and Saint-Paul Elementary in Beaconsfield will merge into junior and senior schools, using both buildings.

“If we don’t close our low-occupancy schools, [the government] will close them for us,” said chair of the school board, Suanne Stein Day. The decisions were the result of an 18-month major school change process the board undertook to address dwindling registration and budget cuts.

Enrolment at Lakeside Academy is currently at 37 per cent. Students will be sent to either Lindsay Place High School or LaSalle Community Comprehensive High School, depending on proximity.

Student population at LBPSB, Québec’s largest English school board, has declined 12 per cent between 2009 and 2014. They’ve also faced cuts totaling $10.5-M for the 2015-16 school year.

Lay-offs are not expected. Educators and support staff should move into other schools, and retirements should take care of excess administrative jobs, according to Stein-Day.

Parents react

Some parents are tired of their children having to move to other schools. “This is my third major school change,” said Linda Roach. She has one daughter in tenth grade at Lindsay Place who has had to attend four schools, though the family has never moved. “We experienced two closures at the elementary level which were very difficult. It took a lot of work to pick up the pieces.”

Fe Solomon, who addressed Lakeside’s closure at the meeting, has a daughter at the academy. “[She] went through two closures in elementary school . . . We chose Lakeside Academy for its International Baccalaureate program. My daughter is in tenth grade now,” she said.

Solomon asked why she should put her daughter in another English school board when there will just be more changes in the future. “How much more can we take? Two times for my daughter, it’s just too much.”

Parent and chair of the governing board at Sherwood Forest Elementary, Joanne MacInnis, said that change is good. “I think it will be fine. The children will all be fine.”

Buildings

The vacant buildings will first be offered to the Commision Scolaire Marguerite-Bourgeoys (CSMB). “I expect the French school board to gobble them up. Our schools are in very good shape and very well maintained.”

If the CSMB does not want the buildings, the LBPSB can request permission to sell, with the profit going back to the board.

“We don’t want to be investing our money in brick and mortars, we want to be investing our money in students in the classroom.” A small elementary school costs about $1-M in maintenance and administration, said Stein Day.

Other issues

Transportation and French-language instruction were other aspects of the process. Bus routes will be reworked, though plans won’t be finalised until after registration is completed in February.

The Français Plus program, introduced at the last major school change in 2009, will expand to three more schools.

Merged schools will form committees of parents and staff to help identify the needs that are unique to each school. “We’re going to be able to give the schools more resources that they need,” said Stein Day.

The board is also introducing new student-centric programs and Christmas Park Elementary in Beaconsfield will begin a “Future Ready School” pilot program focused on science and technology.

There is a reconsideration process where a commissioner who voted for a resolution would have to go back on their decision to reopen the vote.

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