Thursday, February 23, 2012

Do high school hijinks threaten Central's future?

Barrie Central Collegiate’s future is news again, as the school board prepares capital priorities for the Ministry of Education. A new Central is on the list, which is spun as a good news for Central supporters. Yet this request raises more questions than answers.
First, the timing. In some years, the Ministry asks school boards to compile wish lists. This year, it has not. There is no pressing need for staff to draft a list, nor for trustees to approve and send it on. So why go through this exercise now?
And what about the details? Funding is sought to build a new downtown high school for 400 students. If this strikes you as a shockingly low number, that’s because it is. Although the staff report claims this represents the outcome of the Accommodation Review Committee, no such number was ever presented at the ARC. It’s less than half the current enrollment of 905 or even the projected 834 student population of 2021-2022, to say nothing of the downtown growth the city and province expect (but the board staff dismiss). Apparently it comes from subtracting everyone currently bused in or enrolled in the alternative programs that work best downtown.
This tiny figure originates from planning staff who earlier ruled out the future of a high school with fewer than the 1200-1400 students they arbitrarily declared optimal. If today’s numbers aren’t big enough, how could only 400 be floated? I’m all for smaller schools, but this strains credulity.
From the start, staff resolved to close Central, while the community ARC was adamant that it be saved. Is it possible that, in the guise of following the ARC’s recommendation for a rebuild, staff are actually trying to get Central’s future rejected by the Ministry, so they can resume their original path to closure?
Coincidentally, a name from the past has returned. When the Barrie high school ARC launched with bells tolling for Central’s imminent closure and sale, the board’s Associate Director was Carol McAulay. But she left the process about halfway through, moving on to new employment. Meanwhile, a surge of Central support secured a reprieve. If Central had closed on the staff’s proposed deadline of June 2012, for sale signs would be popping up any day now.
Yet with Barrie’s downtown struggling to fill leases and replace burnt-out buildings, who would buy a large lot zoned for educational use?
It turns out Laurentian University is eager to own a piece of downtown Barrie for their planned satellite campus. And guess who’s in charge of securing that property? Laurentian’s new VP Administration, Carol McAulay. I wonder if she had a spot in mind when she hired on?

Published in my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner under the title "Barrie Central debate back in the crosshairs"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of the Ontario School of Economic Science and Earthsharing Canada

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