LKDSB continues to wait for green-light to plan for future school closures

Colonel Cameron Public School in Corunna (Photo courtesy of LKDSB)

The possibility of consolidating schools in the Sarnia and Corunna-Mooretown areas is still on the table, however, school board officials are still unable to proceed with plans due to an ongoing moratorium on school consolidations.

The 2021/2022 Pupil Accommodation Report was presented to trustees during a Lambton-Kent District School Board (LKDSB) meeting earlier this week. It outlined current and projected enrollment figures, as well as four of the original eight proposed phases presented to trustees before the moratorium.

The proposed phases include the construction of a new elementary school in Sherwood Village to house students currently bused to King George VI, Lakeroad, Confederation Central, High Park, and Errol Road Public Schools respectively. The proposal, first introduced a few years ago, would result in the closure of Confederation Central Public School, Queen Elizabeth II, London Road Public School, and Lakeroad Public School, which has a combined total projected reduction of 637 empty pupil spaces.

Another proposed phase involves the closure of Mooretown-Courtright Public School and Colonel Cameron Public School, which has a projected combined reduction of 281 empty pupil spaces. An additional option involves the closure of Mooretown-Courtright Public School and to consolidate students at Colonel Cameron Public School.

LKDSB Superintendent of Capital Planning Mark Sherman said the report is not acting as a recommendation but is more of a snapshot of the current situation.

“Any phases we had put forward, which now is quite a few years ago, regarding possible school consolidation closures are frozen,” he said. “We can’t enter into new phases or new accommodation review committee processes.”

Sherman noted that the reason for projects, such as the new JK-12 super school in Forest, moving forward are because plans were approved prior to the moratorium.

Although planning is frozen, Sherman said the school board is still dealing with 8,421 empty pupil spaces.

“That limits how efficiently we can assign our resources and spend the budget of the board,” he said.

Sherman said it’s tough to say if the moratorium will come to an end soon but the good news is, enrollment levels have somewhat stabilized.

“Our projections are that in the next 10 years — like in 2031 — we’re not going to decline very much at all,” said Sherman. “So if the moratorium gets lifted, it will really be a good spot for the board to be in because we’ll be able to make significant suggestions as to how to right-size the board and it will be appropriate decisions for a long time.”

In regards to virtual learning, Sherman said it’s not expected to hurt enrollment numbers moving forward.

Last year, 3,150 students moved to a virtual school setting due to the pandemic. This year, at the elementary and secondary school level, there are about 800 students involved in virtual learning.

“[It’s] still significant but it’s a 75 per cent drop so it definitely points out that there’s a preference for parents to have their children face-to-face in a school setting,” said Sherman. “Right now, we don’t know if moving ahead with it next year, we will be directed to run virtual schools again at the elementary and secondary panel.”

Included in this year’s Pupil Accommodation Report were also five possible long term planning options to take into consideration.

“They’re very broad. We talked about perhaps doing a City of Sarnia elementary school boundary review, which is allowed even under a moratorium,” said Sherman. “[It’s] just so trustees have an idea that we’re still thinking about trying to create efficiencies within our system.”

Other options, which have not been approved by trustees, include repurposing London Road Public School to include adult programs, closing Alexander MacKenzie Secondary School, and modernize Errol Road Public School to house state of the art technical programs.

The full Pupil Accommodation Report can be found by clicking, here.