Skip to content

Sparks fly as trustees include new Shanty Bay school among its 10 priority projects

Jodi Lloyd says she has 'grave concerns' about 'ministerial interference' after learning minister met with Shanty Bay group; School for West Ridge makes the cut
scdsb business and finance committee meeting
Trustees and staff from the Simcoe County District School Board met this week at a Business and Facilities Standing Committee meeting to discuss and approve a list of 10 capital projects it will submit to the ministry for approval.

Despite worries about interference from Stephen Lecce, the province’s minister of education, Simcoe County District School Board (SCDSB) trustees reluctantly voted this week to include a new Shanty Bay school among the 10 capital projects it is submitting to the province for approval.

As a result of uncertainty out of Queen’s Park over school class sizes and the difficulty of acquiring land in the southern part of the county within the tight timelines imposed by the province, “urgently needed” schools in Bradford and Alcona have been removed from the list.

There is potentially good news for Orillia parents: A new elementary school in West Ridge has made the cut. It’s ranked No. 7 on the list.

Here’s the list, in priority order:

  1. New Bradford South elementary school 
  2. Banting Memorial High School replacement school 
  3. Lake Simcoe Public School addition 
  4. Killarney Beach Public School addition 
  5. New Angus elementary school 
  6. New Alliston elementary school 
  7. New Orillia elementary school 
  8. New Barrie #1 Southeast elementary school 
  9. New Barrie #1 Southwest elementary school 
  10. Shanty Bay Public School Replacement School

While those in southern Simcoe County might be upset to learn a second Bradford high school and a much-needed elementary school in Alcona are no longer on the list, it was the inclusion of a new Shanty Bay elementary school that generated the most controversy at this week’s Business and Facilities Standing Committee meeting in Midhurst.

Prior to the meeting, a pair of Oro-Medonte residents - Alastair Connolly and Sue Harrison - made an impassioned plea to trustees urging them to demolish Shanty Bay Public School and construct a larger facility on the site.

The duo asked to make the presentation when they learned a new Shanty Bay school was not originally among the board’s 10 priorities. In recent weeks, board staff had shifted gears to “better align” with the province’s priorities and included the request for a new Shanty Bay school.

It was a difficult decision, stressed Brian Jeffs, the board’s superintendent of business and facility services, who made a detailed presentation outlining the reasoning behind the priorities.

He noted the small Oro-Medonte school, which was built in 1955, has been deemed too prohibitive to repair.

He said, ideally, the board would strike an accommodation review committee (ARC) to look at pupil needs throughout Oro-Medonte before making a decision. 

However, Jeffs noted an ARC “is a tool we no longer have in our toolbox” because the province has decided to pull the plug on the concept while it reviews the procedure.

“In the absence of an ARC … we believe the ministry would be looking to the board to complete necessary renewal needs at Shanty Bay in order to return students to that facility,” Jeffs told trustees.

He said it would cost about $4 million to make necessary repairs at the aging school.

“Staff’s position is that throwing good money at a failed facility in an effort to get it back on its feet is neither fiscally responsible nor operationally sound,” said Jeffs, noting such a move would also “come at the expense of other high and urgent renewal projects.”

He said it makes more sense to seek funding for a new, larger school that would “help alleviate growing pressure” at Oro-Medonte schools.

It was a decision applauded by Connolly and Harrison. They presented detailed research about development plans in the township and how those would lead to even more pressure on already crowded schools.

But in their submission to the board, they dropped a bit of a bombshell when they revealed they met with Lecce at his King City office. Attorney General Doug Downey, the MPP for Barrie-Springwater-Oro-Medonte, Oro-Medonte Mayor Harry Hughes and Ward 3 Coun. Cathy Keane also attended the meeting “in support” of a new Shanty Bay school.

That infuriated board chair Jodi Lloyd, the trustee representing Orillia, Severn and Ramara Township.

“I’m quite concerned by the fact this meeting took place without the courtesy of an invitation to the school board that actually makes these decisions,” said Lloyd, who noted boards across the province “are facing challenges.”

She said the process should not be politicized; decisions should be based on the merits of the business cases presented. It “calls into question the integrity of the process,” she stressed.

“I’m sure parents wanting a new school in West Ridge or a new school in Alcona or a new high school in Bradford would like a personal meeting with the minister and the Attorney General,” said Lloyd. 

“I have grave concerns about this and about potential ministerial interference.”

Trustee Robert North agreed, saying it appears the meeting with the minister involved four politicians.

“Was anyone invited from the (ministry’s) capital branch? They are the subject matter experts in this area - not the politicians,” noted North, the trustee for Adjala-Tosorontio/Clearview/CFB Borden/Essa.

“That’s why we trust the process,” said North. “The business case goes to the capital branch. They sort through and pick projects that seem to make the most sense for the most students for the longest term.”

Lloyd is concerned about how this might play out. In the past, when the board has been asked to prioritize projects, the ministry has not necessarily selected the projects the board had identified as their highest priorities.

“My concern is Shanty Bay gets funded before a new Orillia school,” said Lloyd, noting “that’s the risk” of this process because the ministry doesn’t “necessarily do them in order.”

That, in part, is why Bradford West Gwillimbury trustee Debbie Connors attempted to get support from her colleagues to take Shanty Bay off the list. She wanted to replace that with a "much-needed" second high school for Bradford.

"I'm worried about the future," said Connors, whose attempt to change the priority list failed.

Lloyd said the board “has no idea” how many of their projects - if any - might be approved. She said “uncertainty” is the order of the day when it comes to education in Ontario.

Lloyd said having a new minister and not knowing what the class size number for high schools will ultimately be - it’s expected class sizes will grow from 22 to 28 - creates challenges in predicting the need for new high schools.

In addition, she said the province decreed that any capital project put forward must be completed by the end of the 2023-24 school year. She said that makes it impossible to build new schools, for example, in Alcona and Bradford because it would take much longer to find and acquire property in those areas.

“Because of the land pressure in the southern portion of Simcoe County, there’s just no way to acquire land within that timeframe,” said Lloyd, noting that’s frustrating because that’s where the “most urgent need” is.

'If we don’t get (another) request for capital priorities for two years, we could be in a heck of a mess in the south end of the county," said Lloyd. "We're already in a mess."

Ultimately, however, she conceded the province determines how dollars are spent; she noted each of the province’s 72 school boards have been tasked to create 10 priorities for consideration. 

“That means there are 720 possible projects. I’m not naive enough to think all of ours will get funding,” said Lloyd.

“The province hasn’t told us the dollar amount available. There’s uncertainty about class sizes, there’s uncertainty about the impact of e-learning on high school sizes and needs … we only have bits and pieces of the puzzle.”

And that makes it difficult to ensure the right decision is made, Lloyd told OrilliaMatters after the meeting.

“We need to get this right,” said Lloyd, noting decisions made now have long-lasting impacts on students and communities. 

However, they also have to strike while the iron’s hot.

“We’ve waited for two years for the ministry to put out a call for capital projects. We don’t know when another call might come,” Lloyd said, noting they have to file their request to the province by Sept. 30.

The trustees' decision on the priority list is subject to ratification at the board's regular meeting Sept. 25.