Tag: Community Schools

What happens after the school closure moratorium expires in November 2012?

Trustee Spencer and I moved two motions to be debated at the March 13th board meeting (www.livestream.epsb.ca) that will start the discussion about how we make public education work in established neighborhoods. The school closure moratorium committee has been a very informative process, but looking twenty years down the road we need to figure out how all of the pieces work together, and if options like brand new replacement schools can be part of the mix.

Please read our moratorium committee recommendations to help keep schools open, here. We know we need a new utilization formula that reflects the true use of school space and we know that we need some excess capacity built into the system to incorporate the return of families to established neighborhoods. However, ultimately keeping schools open depends on local kids going to local schools and the demographic changes required to repopulate many of our neighbourhoods (using all statistics available) is going to take much, much, longer than I had anticipated when I was a trustee candidate.

I want to be clear that our board remains committed to the moratorium, which expires in November 2012. Administration continues to review all of our facilities and programs, but as a board we will continue to examine ways to keep schools open and investigate new and collaborative partnerships that might support more of our schools. For instance, I have been pushing for more collaboration with the separate school system (Journal: school boards will consider sharing space.)

What do we do when a school enrollment is dropping to the point where a regular program might have 50 children? What do we do when a choice program is located in a place that isn’t serving the local students or community? What do you do when you have two half-empty schools located in the same neighbourhood? What do you do when your budget is stretched further and further, but your costs are growing faster than your revenues?

These motions are informed based on the feedback I have been receiving from school councils and community consultations throughout my campaign and my term in office (What can we do to attract more families back to established neighbourhoods?) It is also a reflection of my learning as a trustee as I’ve been working with my colleagues to grasp the complexity of our space and infrastructure needs and the changing demographics in our city. While we can (and should) keep the vast majority of our schools open for when our neighbourhoods refill with young families, in the short term there may need to be a few changes in declining areas that have multiple schools– sometimes in the same neighborhood (or under a kilometre away.)

As the moratorium comes to an end, I believe that given our 197 schools in Edmonton, we need to evaluate, if every single one of these schools is best serving their local community and hear from our administration about possible opportunities. As trustees, we need to be willing to hear our options they can bring forward.

Additionally, we need to make sure that the closure cost-savings (estimated at a million per closure by administration) follow the children to the receiving school so instead of them just being inconvenienced by change, they can be offered something better.

Trustee Spencer and I put these motions on the table to start the conversation with our board on March 13th.

What do we do when the moratorium expires?

  • Did we get the suggested numbers right?
  • Are there other criteria we might be overlooking?
  • Are there other short-term opportunities to support schools?
  • “It’s not what you take away, it’s what you leave behind.” What should we focus on leaving behind?

Please review these motions and provide your feedback. Please sign up for my newsletter on the right hand side of this page so I can email you information as it comes forward. You can always email me Michael@michaeljanz.ca on this or any issue.

Trustee Spencer: 1. Building on the Elevate Report recommendations, that the District develop a 20-year infrastructure plan, in conjunction with communities, other levels of government and school boards, to enrich life-long learning opportunities and provide supports for children and families, and which may include renewal of existing facilities, modernizations, consolidations, replacement schools, cross-district partnerships, expansions, right-sizing and new school construction. The plan should include some small schools in the spirit of the District’s commitment to offering choice for families. Trustees will contribute to creating effective public engagement around this work, with the Moratorium Committee providing oversight, and its terms of reference shall be considered amended to include this function.

Trustee Janz: 2. Planning in the District shall continue to emphasize the importance of providing excellent educational opportunities experiences for all children and supporting neighbourhood schools to serve children and communities. The Board shall continue to advocate at the municipal level for urban renewal through new family-friendly housing and at the provincial level for adequate maintenance and infrastructure funding.

Leading up to the expiration of the Moratorium in November 2012, the Administration shall work with stakeholders, including students, parents, community members, tenants and other levels of government, to bring forward recommendations in December 2012 to take effect September 2013 for consolidation, expansions, right-sizing schools, space sharing with other districts, or replacement schools, including the possibility of school closure, using the following criteria:

a.       Consider schools that are located in the same city neighbourhood as, or less than 700 meters from another EPSB school and where there is comfortably enough space to bring together students in one facility while continuing to offer the existing range of grades and programming options.

b.      Consider schools which do not offer regular programming and which have an enrolment of less than 100 students.

c.       Consider schools which draw from an attendance area where there are less than 80 EPSB students residing at the elementary or junior high levels.

The Administration shall also conduct programming fit reviews at schools where a regular or alternative programming stream has enrollment of less than 80 students.

This work shall be informed by the District Priorities, with an emphasis on equity and healthy transportation, as well as the work of the Moratorium Committee, previous public consultation processes, and the recommendations included in the Elevate report to support strong schools and strong communities.

To fully examine the work we are doing to try and support schools, and our growing infrastructure pressures,  please take a few minutes and read the research done through our school closure moratorium committee process. To see the information reports on the causes of closures, check out presentations on:

By administration numbers, our infrastructure costs outpace our revenues by $34.4 Million. Those costs are then paid for out of our operational budget (classroom dollars.) In some cases, there are very good reasons to do this (For example, keeping a small school open serving a high-needs population, or maintaining our commitment to choice in an area with limited educational opportunities.)

Can we say this is the case for every single one of our 197 schools? I don’t know the answer, but the motion above means that in certain circumstances, we need to be willing to hear about our options.

Plant Operation and Maintenance

Annual revenue $66.0 million & IMR funding $14.5 = Total $80.5 Million

2010/11 audited costs

Custodial $37.9 + Maintenance $25.2 +Utilities $24.3 + IMR 12.3 + Facilities Admin $9.6 + Amortization $5.0 = Total $114.3 Million

Further information on Walk to School Week October 3-7th

This post contains information sent to me from SHAPE- Safe, Healthy, Active, People Everywhere! Happy Walking!

International Walk to School Week

Every year over 40 countries participate in walk to school events during International Walk to School Week (October 3 – 7, 2011).    SHAPE provides ideas, posters and participant stickers for participating schools.

The majority of adults surveyed walked to school.   They don’t always remember the details but do remember the fun, adventure and companionship they felt.  They walked with siblings, neighbors and often stopped to pick up friends along the way.

Today in Alberta over 50% of students are driven to school.  Parents drive them for convenience, unsafe drivers and traffic concerns.  The result is traffic congestion in and around schools, unsafe crossings and students getting less physical activity.

Parents said they would let their children walk/cycle to school if there were safer/improved routes, reduced traffic dangers and they were not alone.  This is where SHAPE can assist schools with School Travel Planning, Event Days, Walking School Busses or Walking Buddies.

For more info visit us online at www.shapeab.com

Ward Gathering Recap: Celebrating our communities and our neighbourhood schools

First Ward Gathering a success:
How do we increase the number of families living in our mature neighbourhoods?
This very important question was the trailhead into a wide-ranging discussion hosted April 7th by myself and Ward 10 Councillor Don Iveson. Approximately 40 local community leaders gathered to discuss community revitalization, keeping schools open, family and seniors friendly housing and much more.
School Closures are still a hot topic in the media and our ward gathering was mentioned in Metro, the Examiner, and on inews880/630CHED.
Discussion was wide ranging and leaders present were given a homework assignment to continue the conversation at their school councils and community leagues. We asked each of the participants to take back to their organization two questions:
If it meant your neighbourhood had a greater chance of retaining their school:
1. Would the community be willing to encourage more density and infill?
2. What would that infill look like and where would it be?
As our city continues to sprawl, the pressure for providing new services, libraries, parks, roads, and schools for new developments continues to reduce the funding available for maintaining infrastructure in the core. The city has started to signal an intention to move towards a more compact, walkable, urban city, but last year only 7% of new developments were in the core. Low enrollment continues to put schools in mature neighbourhoods at risk of closure or consolidation. Leaders present stressed the need for complete communities with vibrancy, ammenities, and the need for us as residents of mature neighbourhoods to tell the story about how our communities are safe, desirable, and worth investing in.
This was the first Ward Gathering and I found it to be an empowering and engaging experience. The next gathering will be focused on student health and wellness and will be taking place in Riverbend in early June. They will always be an open invitation so bring a friend!

General Feedback:

This is an abridged summary of the 6 different discussions held April 7th, 2011. I couldn’t type out all of the feedback verbatim, but if I missed something please leave a comment below and I’ll update the lists.
- Complete communities are important with a variety of housing types, transportation options, access to learning and shopping, and recreation.
- Strong schools make for strong communities.
- We need to embrace family and senior friendly infill that will open up new opportunities for families to move back into mature neighbourhoods while allowing other segments of the population to age in place. More infill can help revitalize and bring new energy to neighbourhoods in need of revitalization.
- Social isolation and the aging population will increasingly mean we need to do more to support our aging populations and ensure they are not living in auto-dependant suburbs.
- Residents of mature neighbourhoods love our communities and need to do a better job of celebrating why they are so special. The old comfy pair of jeans that is ‘broken in’ is much better than the
- Edmonton should embrace progressive taxation and incentives to encourage infill to encourage more families to move into the core. Offsets should be placed on new and proposed neighbourhoods like Mayor Nenshi has proposed in Calgary.
- Incentives must be found to help increase the number of families in the core
- Choice programs and open boundaries can be both a blessing and a curse as in some cases the children do not go to the neighbourhood school, while in other cases a program of choice keeps the school open.
- If the city does not densify and continues to sprawl, the tax burden to build new schools, roads, and infrastructure will become unsustainable and might tax more seniors and families out of their homes. Increased population density is economically efficient and will help keep taxes down.
Question one: What attracts families back into the core?
- Schools, parks infrastrucutre: BIG TREES!
- Close to parks and schools so shorter commute times
- The broken pair of comfy jeans is better than breaking in a new one
- Save money by driving less and living closer to libraries, recreation, shopping and other amenities.
- Lower property taxes and financial measures to help make the neighbourhoods more desirable
- Abandon the mexaplex model for recreation centers and focus on smaller, more widely distributed pools and recreation centers.
- Attach costs of new schools and infrastructure to new developments so they don’t deplete dollars from existing infrastrucutre
- How do we promote our neighbourhood schools?
- How can we increase and promote the early childhood education, preschool and childcare programs in schools?
- If parents are driving their kids to school and many work at the U of A or downtown, how can we make our schools desired destinations?
- How can we increase the variety of housing available in mature communities?
Question two: What can CITIZENS do to?
- Sing the praises of our mature neighbourhood through block parties, celebrations, and other events that showcase the community. Especially showcase safety- our neighbourhoods are safe!
- Ensure that we work together to ensure our neighbourhoods are clean and presentable and just as attractive as a new neighbourhood.
- Instead of opposing new developments, working to ensure they are family-friendly, seniors-friendly that can help revitalize our neighbourhoods.
- Understand that our city is constantly in flux and change and that we need to think holistically about our advocacy when it comes to new developments
- Vote, and engage our communities in the electoral process.
- Join their community league, work to strengthen the relationship between their neighbourhood and their local school.
- Co-housing was raised as an innovative new initiative that is starting in Edmonton. It might be coming to a community near you.
- Shop local, help to increase your communities walkability and safety.
- Get further involved in the EFCL through initiatives such as community league day and the Living Local campaign.
- Start a neighbourhood e-newsletter and hold regular potlucks and block parties. Vibrant communities attract more families!

Why I voted for the moratorium…

Why I voted in favor of a two-year moratorium on school closures.

Tuesday evening, the Edmonton Public School Board voted 7-2 on the motion for a renewable moratorium on two year school closure.

I have received many thought-provoking letters from residents indicating their support or their concerns with the motion. Some believed that it reduced the board’s flexibility and opportunity to make decisions. Others thought that the moratorium might not be long enough. There are still many unanswered questions from residents about why we are closing schools, why we are opening so many new schools, why only certain sectors were targeted and if the district has a comprehensive future plan for space needs.

If we did not pass the moratorium yesterday, we could be facing more closure recommendations as soon as next month.

As a district, we are just starting the tri-level discussions to move forward and we have an unprecedented opportunity to work with our partners in the Province, the City, and with Edmonton Catholic. Mayor Mandel and the city are interested in working together and a moratorium shows that we will be partners in good faith in this process as opposed to closing schools with one hand while trying to revitalize neighbourhoods with the other.

We also have began the process of allowing our community schools equal support (circa Trustee Huff’s motion last year to work towards equal support for community schools), reviewing our central organization and elements of site-based decision making, and I feel it would not be prudent to move ahead at this time until we have our ducks in a row.

So what does a two-year renewable moratorium on school closures do?

It directs the EPSB Board and administration to work together on creative solutions instead of school closures and examine the complete costs of school closures. It gives clarity of direction from our board that this is the direction that we would like to move and that closing 19 schools in 10 years requires us to pause and revisit our needs.

From conversations with my colleagues I know our board isn’t afraid of making tough decisions, but we just want to make sure that they are tough, but fully-informed decisions.

The data surrounding the performance or quality of education for students who attend small schools is inconclusive. The cost savings accrued to the district from closing a school are unclear, if there are any. With an absence of clear motive and justification, why continue to aggressively close schools that we the taxpayers have built, paid for, and been using for years?  Is it because space is being inappropriately measured, often failing to allocate for before and after school care, libraries, computer rooms, etc.?   If schools have to close, where, and how many of them? By my rough estimate we would need to close almost half of the schools in the city to balance our plant operations deficit. Or is it because we lack the proper operational funding from the proper places to provide the space and services required for learning?

Many schools I have spoken to have said that they could have dramatically higher enrollment if we cut the red tape surrounding the limits on these small schools. Many families told me that the one choice our district undervalues is the choice of the community school, and the very valid reasons that families select it. It gives our district a chance to review many of our spaces and work with community groups and other levels of government to take into account the needs of our communities and create the best possible educational outcomes for every student.

We need to make sure that we are being fair and consistent with everyone, especially with the outcome of a decision is as serious as a school closure. This is an infinitely more complicated issue that cannot be simplified to a false dichotomy of “Buildings or kids.”

The elephant in the room here is that we are running two public education systems with competing infrastructure needs, competing for the same students. (Both Catholic and non-Catholic students attend both Separate and Public schools.) Our tri-level discussions give us an opportunity to look for collaborative opportunities with the Separate system.

When given a problem, it is crucial that we make absolutely clear that we are asking the right questions. A moratorium gives us time to make sure we are seeking the right answers to the real problem.

As Trustee Christopher “CKLS” Spencer quoted:

“We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims.” Richard Buckminster Fuller (US engineer and architect, 1895-1983 )

Reading (on the) Railroad

I began yesterday morning with an LRT trip to the Century Park Station. Edmonton Public Library’s first book “vending machine” was installed this morning to serve transit commuters with their morning book fix. As one of the trustees for the Edmonton Public Library, I was thrilled to see an enthusiastic media there in full force. You can read more about the pilot program by clicking here and here.

The link between Edmonton Public Schools and the Edmonton Public Library is obvious.

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