2014 has proven to be yet another challenging year for the Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board. Since the Board reaffirmed its decision to close PCVS in 2012, there has been a string of events that has made that decision easy compared to those the recently elected Board will have to face in the New Year.
All of members of the Board from the City of Peterborough who were elected in November are new and face a particularly difficult term with a clearly divisive Board. The Board votes over the last three years clearly indicate a serious division between those from Peterborough and those outside it.
The first evidence of this division came with the Peterborough-based "camp" that was against closing PCVS and the more rural "camp" of those for it. The "camps" have clear geographical boundaries. Trustees from Peterborough consistently lose votes because they were outnumbered by those outside Peterborough.
With the majority of the Board being from outside Peterborough, they have vocally blamed the Peterborough-based trustees for what they have called a self-centered view from Peterborough. One even went so far to say that what is good for Peterborough is unlikely to be good for the other communities in the KPRDSB. If Peterborough had dealt with the PCVS issue years ago, one Board member claims, the KPRDSB would not find itself in its current, dire circumstances.
The tensions at the Board that first emerged with the contentious votes to close PCVS have led to several costly trends. First, students are flocking to the Separate Board schools to such an extent that the Separate Board needs another school to deal with the limits to their high schools' capacity. More concerning are falling grant revenues from the Ministry of Education because of declining KPRDSB enrolment and the resulting freeze on teacher hiring—full time and part time.
But falling grant revenues are nothing compared to the reaction of many Peterborough property taxpayers. More and more residential and commercial property taxpayers are voluntarily switching from directing their taxes from the Public Board and sending their tax dollars to the Separate Board. Downtown Peterborough businesses led the way when it became clear that the Board majority consistently voted against the interests of Peterborough residents; a wave of residential taxpayers followed by switched their tax allegiance.
A large, influential, and vocal faction of retired, "empty nesters" have shown their dissatisfaction for the KPRDSB's neglect of issues important to Peterborough by sending their education taxes to the Separate Board.
Rising costs along with rapidly falling revenues spells financial disaster for the KPRDSB.
More students than ever having to be bussed since the closing of PCVS, and the rising cost of gas has increased costs modestly. However, even with the $750,000 the Board earned from the sale of the PCVS collection Group of Seven paintings, the costs related to the temporary closing of Thomas A. Stewart Secondary School has dug them into a very deep financial whole.
When the construction of the two new elevators at TASSS was begun, some "issues" with the building arose meaning it suddenly being closed in early December for major repairs. Reminiscent of the 1990s, TASSS students—including those moving from PCVS—will be attending Kenner Collegiate in rotating half days "shifts" beginning January 2015. The $10 million renovations—including the expansion of the parking lots to accommodate 200 more cars—are expected to be completed for the opening of school in September 2015.
The declining enrolment in the KPRDSC high schools has been particularly apparent in their arts program. With fewer students in the arts program and the dislocation for repairs to TASSS, the arts program has been suspended as of January 2015. Students in the program will take a regular academic program with some emphasis on the arts being integrated into the program in their English Literature classes. Those wishing to pursue the arts in high school are, without the support of the Board, considering recently opened arts programs in other, similar communities.
With none of the Peterborough-based KPRDSB Trustees being re-elected in the Fall 2014 election and the exit of the Board's Director late in 2013, it is hoped that a more balanced approach that will take the interests of Peterborough residents seriously will occur in the New Year. Still, all indications are that the financial pressures on the Board can only lead to yet another KPRDSB high school being closed. More realistically, there is likely to be a high school "gifted" to the Separate Board from the Public Board.
Although the new Director and Trustees from outside Peterborough deny any connection between the closing of PCVS and the dire straits the KPRDSB must navigate, there is little doubt of the connection by those walking by empty retail outlets and silent music venues in Peterborough's downtown. One long-time downtown business woman upon announcing the liquidation of her business declared downtown Peterborough "officially dead."
The most likely item on the KPRDSB agenda for its first meeting of 2015 after discussing how much larger its deficit really is, will be the beginning of the discussions leading up to the closing of yet another Peterborough high school.