OCDSB Chair Grilled Over Riverside South High School Delay

Carleton MPP Goldie Ghamari put Ottawa Carleton District School Board Chair Lynn Scott on the hot seat during the Ontario Government Pre-Budget Consultation Meeting in Ottawa Wed., Jan. 24.

Ghamari was critical of the board on a number of issues, particularly how long it has taken to build public high schools in Riverside South and Stittsville.

The opening of the Stittsville school has a domino affect as it will free up space at South Carleton High School. With the housing growth in Manotick and Richmond, having the Stittsville school open will have a major impact for the Carleton riding beyond that community.

The Riverside South school also has a domino effect. In the past, Riverside South’s public high school students have been bussed to South Carleton, Merivale, and Longfields-Davidson Heights in Barrhaven.

Scott was one of the presenters at the Ottawa meeting. She was the chair of the board for several years until unseated by Lyra Evans. In the fall, Scott regained the seat after a tie vote between Scott and Evans was settled with a deck of cards.

In her presentation, Scott claimed that funding from the province was a factor in the construction of new schools.” Ghamari said. “You received the funds to build Stittsville’s public high school in 2018.” She asked Scott about the opening of the school, and was told it was opening in September.

“So it takes the school board six years to build a public high school,” Ghamari replied.

Ghamari then asked Scott about the public high school in Riverside South.

“The communities were fighting for that,” Ghamari said of the school, adding that residents of Riverside South residents have been wanting a school for more than 10 years. “When I was elected it was one of my local campaign promises. I secured funding for Riverside South Public High School – the first public high school in the community – in 2020.”

According to Scott, that school will be open in 2025.

“So six years for the first one, five years for the second one,” replied Ghamari.

The Carleton MPP was then in attack mode over the lack of haste in building a badly needed second elementary school in Findlay Creek. The first school built there, Vimy Ridge Elementary School, had 23 portable classrooms before the OCDSB prioritized the building of a second school.

“Instead of the school board prioritizing building a second public elementary school there, the school board decided to prevent students from attending and have them go elsewhere,” Ghamari said. “I had to work with the community on creating a local petition to prioritize building a second elementary school in Findlay Creek.”

The panel learned that the second Findlay Creek school would be opened in the fall of 2025.

 Six months before the OCDSB received its funding, the Ottawa Catholic School Board received funding from the province for the construction of a Catholic elementary school in Findlay Creek. Ghamari attended the groundbreaking for that school in the late summer.

“That school is slated to be open in September 2024,” Ghamari said. “Even though (the OCDSB) received funding six months after the Catholic school board, I haven’t even been invited to the groundbreaking ceremony for that, and the school’s going to be open at least one year after. To me that says something.”

Ghamari said that the Ottawa Catholic School Board gets schools built in a timely manner while the OCDSB has not been able to.

“Our province gives (the Ottawa Catholic School Board) funding, and schools pop up like weeds,” Ghamari said. “And that’s a compliment. They have their act together. They know what they’re doing.”

Transportation Problems

Ghamari then questioned Scott over the problems that the Ottawa School Transportation Authority (OSTA) has had during the 2023-24 school year.

“Let’s be clear,” said Ghamari. “The regions that were mostly impacted by the school bus cancellations were heavily in my riding – the vast majority were in my riding. If Stittsville’s public high school would have been built on time, that would have been 1,500 students that wouldn’t have had to have been shipped to South Carleton in Richmond or another school. If Riverside South’s public high school had been opened, that would have been another 1,500 students that wouldn’t have to be bused to South Carleton in Richmond, or somewhere like Merivale.

“Could you imagine the efficiencies that you could have with your school bus routes, if you actually built schools on time, like the other school boards. That’s 3,000 students right there that you are unnecessarily moving around, and I’m not even speaking about the elementary schools. I’m just speaking about two public high schools that you have had funding for for six years now, and we’re still waiting to get those built.”

Ghamari said the problems the board is having have nothing to do with funding.

“How does this have anything to do with provincial funding when we have four school boards in Ottawa and there’s only one that’s constantly making it in the news? Everyone is suing everyone. (Former OSTA General Manager) Vicky Kyriaco was let go or dismissed or whatever, is suing OSTA right now. You have one of your board members who is taking (the OCDSB) to the human rights tribunal. Meanwhile, it’s the children who are suffering. It’s the children who are not getting the education that they need because instead of focusing on the basics, instead of focusing on route planning, instead of focusing on building schools, instead of focusing on education, the trustees are so busy fighting with each other and focusing on all this unnecessary stuff that nothing is getting done.

“How does throwing more money at your particular school board fix that issue.”

Scott responded by saying the board was not looking to have money thrown at one particular school board.

“We believe that there are many school boards in the same situation that we are,” Scott said.

Ghamari was blunt with her reply.

“Not the other three in Ottawa,” she said.

Ghamari wants Munster school reopened

Ghamari was also critical over the fact that former board vice-chair, Trustee Justine Bell, has been attending meetings virtually while living in Mexico for the past several months. When asked if Bell was still in Mexico, Scott said she “believed so”.

“A lot of challenges that the Ottawa Carleton District School Board is facing relates to lack of facilities, and that’s because you guys can’t build schools fast enough, like the other three school boards” Ghamari said to Scott. “I want to make this very clear. This isn’t a comment on the staff or the Director of Education. I know that the current staff at the school board are working hard.

While Scott mentioned in her presentation that the board is looking into using its existing facilities, Ghamari asked her if there has been reconsideration into re-opening Munster Elementary School. Scott said “there has been no immediate consideration, however, we are looking at doing a massive review of our elementary programming, which could result in our elementary programming, which could result in some reconfiguration of schools, particularly if we change our program structure in ways that would make it viable to reopen the Munster school.”

The school in Munster was closed after the board dropped the school’s French immersion program, which Ghamari said disincentivized parents from enrolling their children in the school.

“I know the board tried to sell the school to the city sometime in 2019,” Ghamari said. “I personally stopped that because I did not want to see the school being sold for private use. I would like to see it re-opened, as would the community.”