Simcoe County District School Board trustees have voted to keep four of five area high schools open, leaving existing enrolment gaps at some schools and possibly creating new ones at Collingwood Collegiate Institute.
Onlookers spilled into the atrium at the school board’s administration centre in Midhurst Tuesday as members of the facility standing committee, comprised of trustees, voted at a special meeting called to deal with nine staff recommendations about how to resolve high school enrolment issues.
"Before us there are nine recommendations that are basically going to tear our communities apart," said Peter Beacock, trustee for Springwater Township and Oro-Medonte.
Trustees poured over nine staff recommendations during a four-and-a-half hour period Tuesday, in the end, defeating a motion to close the high schools in Stayner and Penetanguishene.
A motion to recommend improvements to Collingwood Collegiate Institute was also defeated.
They did approve the closure of Elmvale District High School and the construction of a new secondary school to serve Wasaga Beach and Elmvale.
Caroline Smith, the trustee representing Collingwood and Clearview Township, spoke in favour of following the recommendations made by an accommodation review committee (ARC) last month.
"There was never a direction from the ARC that they wanted a mega school," said Smith.
"This was as close to a consensus as any of the ARCs ever got."
She said the board is not allowed to close one school to get growth to build another school, speaking in defense of Stayner Collegiate Institute.
But the decisions made by trustees Tuesday are far from final.
Jodi Lloyd, trustee for Severn, Tay and Ramara, chairs the facility standing committee. She said by approving some recommendations and not others, the three-school solution recommended by staff has been altered and there are now holes that need to be filled.
Redirecting the 450 Wasaga Beach secondary school students to a new high school will result in capacity issues at Collingwood Collegiate Institute.
Lloyd said that problem has yet to be dealt with.
She said things are sure to change as trustees go through another wave of public delegations in May before they make their final decision at a board meeting on June 17.
She said although all school trustees sit on the facility standing committee, there will certainly be changes in opinion as they go through the process.
The board embarked on the review one year ago to seek solutions to declining enrolment in the area, creating a surplus of so-called pupil places.
Staff recommendations, contained in a report dated April 14, differ from the recommendations made by the ARC last month. High schools in Stayner, Collingwood, Elmvale, Penetanguishene and Midland are included in the review. Wasaga Beach was also included as a possible school site.
The ARC, a committee made up of school and community representatives, recommended a five-school solution, to keep all five schools open and fund necessary improvements and upgrades to solve capacity issues. Board staff recommended a three-school solution, which would result in the closure of Penetanguishene Secondary School, Stayner Collegiate Institute and Elmvale District High School and the construction of a central school for Wasaga Beach and Elmvale.
Collingwood Mayor Chris Carrier said the decision to close Elmvale High School wasn’t the best one.
"I supported a six school option, one for each community," he said. "This is devastating news for the people of Elmvale," he said. "I sympathize with them. I’m shocked that this is one of these recommendations."
Carrier said there continues to problems with education funding in Ontario.
"I don’t think the board folks are the bad people," he said. "It shows how under-funded education is."
Carrier disagrees with the idea that if a school is built in Wasaga Beach, CCI will lose programming. He said it is likely that CCI could lose 300 students, but he can’t see them going from 1,250 students to 850 students overnight.
"If they are going to close Elmvale, the school will likely be located in the east end of Wasaga Beach. It still might be advantageous for kids to hop the bus and come to Collingwood," he said.
Carrier said they expect huge growth in Nottawa and those kids would likely attend CCI. He said the growth in Collingwood will also add more students to CCI.
"Where is the growth going to be in Simcoe County – it’s going to be in Collingwood, Clearview and Wasaga Beach," he said.