UCDSB has worked with other boards but ‘not easy,’ says chairman

UCDSB board chairman Jeff McMillan, seen here in a Tuesday, June 7, 2016 screen grab from a YouTube video, says the board has worked with other boards in finding solutions during its Pupil Accommodation Review (YouTube via Newswatch Group)

BROCKVILLE – While understanding the province wants school boards to work together on consolidation, the head of the Upper Canada District School Board says it’s not as easy as it sounds.

The Ontario government sent a letter to all school boards Monday emphasizing the importance of finding co-terminus school board and municipal partnerships while conducting accommodation reviews.

“There are other situations where there hasn’t been the kind of consultation between boards or with the municipality that should have happened. That the ministry has for some time expressed a preference for,” Premier Kathleen Wynne said Monday.

UCDSB board chairman Jeff McMillan said that is being done but it’s not that simple.

“You would think it would be that simple (getting together in a room and talking) but it’s not. It’s much more complex than that. I can’t speak to the specifics on that but I can’t tell it’s not a matter of getting in a room and saying, you take this space we’ll take that space, it doesn’t work quite like that,” McMillan said in an interview with Newswatch.

McMillan acknowledges the request for school boards to work together on solutions for consolidation. “We as a board have reached out to our co-terminus boards and tried to make every opportunity to share as soon as possible,” McMillan said.

McMillan said the UCDSB does share school resources with other boards.

“We work with our co-terminus boards in other areas other than just the sharing of schools. So we are one of the boards that are quite pleased with the fact we have reached out to the co-terminus boards,” McMillan said.

McMillan wasn’t able to explain in detail how the board has worked with other boards because he didn’t have the documentation in front of him. McMillan spoke via cell phone while travelling in Ottawa.

The board chairman said a letter was sent to the Ministry of Education last week outlining all the areas of cooperation.

“But I’m not concerned in the sense that we have not made the effort and that we are not working with our co-terminus board, because in many areas we are,” he said.

McMillan said they are also reaching out to the French boards as well.

He explained the Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario was doing an accommodation review but it wasn’t as large as the UCDSB. “It wasn’t necessarily in their best interest to get into some of the areas that we had some concerns for. But the effort is certainly there,” McMillan said.

McMillan wouldn’t say the conversation is over concerning solutions for cross-board collaboration before the UCDSB makes its final decision March 23 on closing up to a dozen schools in Eastern Ontario.

“We have had partnerships with our communities in terms of conversations. We know we have to continue those conversations with our communities,” he said.

The board chairman noted that the education minister has three MPPs looking at the rural school situation. “But there’s no mention of additional money to help school boards keep these rural schools open…it makes the situation difficult.”