Monday, June 6, 2011

Strategic facilities plans - a plan for more school closures?

Every District in BC was asked by the Ministry to make a long term strategic plan for their facilities use. Many have chosen to contract out this work to a company called "Stantec consulting", which has produced a sort of boiler plate report for multiple districts.

I have only looked in detail at the report for Greater Victoria, but is is evident that there are some serious flaws in the report. The full report is available here:

The report barely mentions the single biggest issue with respect to long term facilities planning: the opening of catchments. In 2002, the BC Liberals allowed parents to "select" a school, rather than having to register for their neighborhood school. This has created a huge amount of chaos in the enrollment and registration processes. It has led to less choice in many schools (fewer students means fewer course offerings), and a lot of staffing changes. Typically now, many teachers are laid off in May when enrollments are very uncertain, and then rehired in September when the enrollments firm up. This means many classes experience multiple teachers during the month of September. It also means facilities planning has been very difficult - particularly when Districts do not seem to want ANY empty space. Doncaster school just underwent a renovation and removed classrooms, and the following year portables were needed to accommodate the new Kindergarten classes.

While the report suggests "limiting enrollment" in a few schools, it does not examine the issue of open catchments holistically, even though it is one of the primary sources of problems for school planning, including facilities planning.

The Victoria report includes in it's "principles" for facilities planning:

* strive for increased efficiency in operational and capital costs
* optimize administrative costs within the available funding

It is no doubt these principles will result in plans with portables on fields, rather than extra space in schools. The report indicates the District should be enabled to: "decommission space". Extra space is "less efficient". From an educational perspective, extra space is a dream - the ability to have small groups work in separate areas, set up additional learning environments, and have adequate space for teacher preparation time.

Perhaps the biggest flaw in the report is the use of 2020 as an end date. Using this date means this "planning" exercise might actually create a space crisis in the years to follow.

Enrollment projections are available to 2028. Yet the report only uses data to 2020. The projections for Secondary enrollment dip and bottom out in 2017. But the Kindergarten numbers show that after 2020, there will be a long term and significant increase at all levels. If decisions are made based on the low numbers in the "dips", there will be insufficient space immediately afterwords.

The Victoria numbers show almost no change in total headcount between 2010 and 2019. Yet the Kindergarten numbers for BC show an increase of 7000 across BC in that same period (about a 20%) increase. This means the 15 years beyond 2020 are going to look very different than the ten years leading up to 2020.

1 comment:

  1. I wrote an essay about this in the Times-Colonist back on May 20. It's great to see this issue is getting some attention. These school district facility plans have become a gold mine for private consultants across the province.