Port Dover Composite is under the gun as the candidate for closure at this stage of the review. To put things into some perspective from afar, the GEDSB kept Delhi District open a few years back, voting to tear down a vacant wing and invest somewhere in the neighbourhood of $4 million on that project and some renos to the school. The school benefited when Norwich DHS, in the Thames Valley DSB, closed in 2009 and the largest group of students to be dispersed chose to start attending Delhi DSS.
The review was highlighted in my recent tab roundup, with reporting coming mainly from my colleagues at the Simcoe Reformer. The paper has posted a few more articles since I wrote that roundup-- one accusing the board of sabotaging PDCS, one on a meeting held at the school and one questioning whether the data being presented to the review committee is flawed. On the latter, the article is a bit confusing since it has the municipality acknowledging that most of the new housing has gone to older populations (who don't have school-aged kids). It seems as though the municipality's growth stats don't match the board's because it's comparing two different demographics.
From the first article:
They are also angry that the GEDSB pays for one-way busing of Port Dover students to Simcoe Composite School.This is a critique that has come up in this board and others before. Boards providing transportation from one area of the district to another that local advocates feel is overly detrimental to the local high school. I know that the GEDSB does this in Delhi, where if a student wants to access a senior-level course and is unable to (or doesn't want to wait until there's a critical mass at the school to have it offered), they are given busing to a school in Simcoe.
Because of this unique busing arrangement, 117 secondary students in the PDCS catchment area attend high school out of town. Were they forced to attend classes in their home town, the number of high-school students at PDCS would rise to 402, well within the board's goal of 75% capacity.
"There has been 25 years of the board surreptitiously putting nail after nail into this school," Marg Ryerse said to loud cheers in the packed gymnasium at PDCS. "As taxpayers in Port Dover we should be outraged. Port Doverites pay some of the heftiest taxes in Norfolk County. Port Dover is being shortchanged here. The board is literally driving our children away. Why is this being allowed to happen?"
GEDSB has PDCS under the microscope because there are 2,200 vacant pupil places at Norfolk's five public high schools.
The critique is similar with PDCS, where students are taking advantage of the free busing.
This can be somewhat of a catch-22 for a school board. It has an obligation to serve all students through all pathways (open, workplace, college, university, academic, locally developed, etc.) regardless of what geographic area of the district their families choose as home. It has to do this within a finite amount of funding. Boards in southern Ontario can be very creative in their approaches, such as offering certain credits every other year, combining grades into one classroom, combining levels into one classroom, offering e-learning and even putting some tele/video conferencing solutions into place. At the end of the day, each of those solutions or all of them are not the solution for every student.
What can sometimes happen (and did in Norwich to some extent, according to data presented in 2004-05), is that the student body tends to sign up for the courses that are offered, regardless if that's the most appropriate course. In this example, the data showed more students taking academic and university level courses -- because that's what could be offered -- than necessarily students heading down that pathway post-grad.
Families tend to vote with their feet. If a course isn't being offered in their home school, or isn't being offered in the format they want or need and they can do so, they'll travel to get it. When you reach a critical mass of people travelling from point A to B, when do you start transporting the students in that direction? Never?
Even a 400-student school can be difficult to time table for every option.
Rather than condemning the board for this situation, I think a far more interesting question would be to ask (in this case) the almost 200 students who take advantage of the transportation why they've done so. The answers could be very, very instructional and illuminating to the committee and the school board.
It's a question that's never asked. Even a few years ago in the midst of Niagara District Secondary School stuff where census stats shows 700 high school-aged students in the catchment area and fewer than half choosing NDSS, no one asked why the other students voted with their feet.