Closings, relocations and mergers are among possible scenarios as consultations begin over future of the board’s secondary schools.
School closings, relocations and mergers are among possible scenarios proffered in a Lester B. Pearson School Board (LBPSB) document as consultations begin on how to deal with declining enrolment in the board’s secondary schools. So is cohabitation with the French-language Commission scolaire Marguerite-Bourgeoys (CSMB).
A motion to launch a Major School Change consultation, as the process is known, was carried unanimously at a meeting of the Pearson board’s commissioners Monday night and the detailed 73-page document describing the options was posted Tuesday on the board’s website.
Enrolment in the LBPSB’s high schools declined from 11,979 students to 8,314 between 2007 and 2017 and, during the 2017-18 school year, seven of the 11 high schools in the West Island board were operating at 60 per cent capacity or less.
The Major School Change consultation involves four high schools: Beurling Academy in Verdun, with a capacity of 725 students, had 723 students in 2009-10 and 313 in 2018-19; Lindsay Place High School in Pointe-Claire, which had 1,241 students in 2009-10 and 458 this year, of a capacity of 1,375; Lakeside Academy in Lachine, with a capacity of 1,150, 595 students in 2009-10 and 483 this year; St-Thomas High School in Pointe-Claire, close to its capacity of 1,333 with 1,232 students. The consultation also involves two LBPSB continuing education centres.
The plan outlines a number of possibilities and “certainly, there are other options,” said LBPSB chairman Noel Burke, who reiterated several times during the meeting that the situations cited in the document are only potential scenarios. No decisions have been made or conclusions drawn, he said: It’s a work in progress. The goal is for a high-school network that would be sustainable for a 10-year period, he said. Among options cited:
— Closing Beurling Academy and relocating the students to LaSalle Community Comprehensive High School. This would release space to expand adult and vocational education centre services in the Beurling building.
— Having the Marguerite-Bourgeoys board cohabit with Lakeside Academy in Lachine; this would allow for “potential for longer-term collaborative projects with the CSMB.”
— Having the population of St-Thomas High School relocate to Lindsay Place.
— Having Lindsay Place cohabit with the Place Cartier Adult Education Centre and its Allancroft annex in Lindsay Place, as two distinct educational institutions in the same building.
The document is the result of a two-year analysis of the board’s high-school network by the Long-Term Planning Committee of its Council of Commissioners. and will involve more than one school community, the report’s foreword states. The timeline provides for meetings with interested parties, followed by public consultation meetings Nov. 26 and 27. Most changes would take effect for the 2020-21 school year, with a couple of options for 2021-22.
Geoffrey Chambers, president of the Quebec Community Groups Network, said Wednesday that the Major School Change plan is a responsible one that takes students’ needs into account. “It’s a rational view of doing the best for their community, but not being wasteful with resources when they see long-term demographic trends which they support,” he said.
The governing Coalition Avenir Québec has pledged to abolish school boards, which would remove decision-making from the schools and place them with the education ministry.
“The potential of arbitrary transfer by the (education) minister is very strong,” Burke said. “It’s better for us to choose the buildings that best suit our community in terms of location and facility and, if there are buildings to be shared or transferred to another school board, it should be what is left after we have done the best redistribution within our own board.”
Under Quebec’s Education Act, Education Minister Jean-François Roberge has the power to transfer schools. In a controversial move earlier this year, he used it to transfer Riverdale High School in Pierrefonds from the Pearson board to Marguerite-Bourgeoys. Now the minister and the English Montreal School Board are embroiled in a dispute over another potential school transfer, this one involving three east-end schools to the Commission scolaire de la Pointe-de-l’Île.