Declining enrolment and, to a lesser extent, larger class sizes, are behind a public school board plan to mothball 253 classrooms across Sarnia-Lambton and Chatham-Kent elementary and high schools in September, the board’s chairperson says.
“Declining enrolment is a big factor, and the next factor is the government’s initiative to increase the number of students in the classroom,” said Jane Bryce, board of trustees chairperson with the Lambton Kent District school board.
The move is intended to free up money for school programming for students, she said.
The planned closures – saving an estimated $3,000 per closed classroom via reduced custodial staff hours, supplies and utility costs – are up from the 192 classroom closures projected at this time last year for September 2018.
The board receives provincial revenue based on the number of students enrolled.
Almost all schools in the board of about 21,800 students are under capacity, Bryce said.
Closing about 250 classrooms in September is expected to save the board about $758,000 overall.
The closures aren’t permanent, board superintendent Gary Girardi said.
“If the need arises that we need to use a room … we can simply add that room back into use as need be,” he said. “That number continually fluctuates during the school year.”
The projection is part of the board’s 2019 capital plan presented to trustees Tuesday. It predicted an overall enrolment drop of 11.2 per cent over the next 10 years.
This fall, classroom use among board elementary schools is projected at 77 per cent of capacity and secondary schools at 65 per cent.
The board is looking to find community partnerships to fill half-empty buildings but with limited success, Bryce said.
There’s plenty of space elsewhere in Sarnia-Lambton for businesses and others to look before they turn to sharing space in a school, she said, noting any partnership to share school space has to be compatible with the school.
Leads Employment Services uses space at Alexander Mackenzie secondary school in Sarnia, and a “learning centre” was created with Goodwill Industries, Chatham-Kent Children’s Services and Tri-County Literacy at John N. Given school in Chatham last year.
“They’re really hoping to replicate that in Lambton somewhere,” Bryce said.
Stones ‘N Bones Museum also uses space in a board warehouse in Sarnia.
There’s no end in sight, meanwhile, for a moratorium on school closures, imposed by the previous Ontario government and upheld under the current regime, meaning no consolidations for space efficiencies, Bryce said.
More funding is ultimately needed to stop the bleeding, board officials said in a news release.
The board, Bryce said, is expecting to be down about 54 teaching positions in the fall.
“That’s not saying we’re down 54 teachers because some have retired,” she said.
Twenty-nine of the 111 Lambton –Kent board teachers served pink slips in April also have yet to be recalled.
More exact numbers are expected in October, Bryce said, noting even the board’s $282.1-million budget approved Tuesday could change over the summer.
The cuts also impact support staff, Bryce said.
“They keep our buildings clean. They answer phones. They get reports ready. They’re very valuable employees that make the whole organization work smoothly,” she said, “and yet it means a loss of positions for them too.”