Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Manufacturing a Crisis, part two: Playing the Numbers Game

What do all these numbers mean, and what about Crestwood?

The exclusion of Crestwood from the ARC review and data study, given that all the other secondary schools serving Peterborough and even their appended intermediate wings were included, has been a bone of contention. The justification given at the Dec. 16, 2010 Board meeting for this exclusion was simply that the school lay outside City boundaries, and in addition was not expected to be affected by declines in enrolment.

The first rationale is obviously specious, as its location with respect to City boundaries (one block outside of them in an area certain to be annexed by the city eventually) is immaterial to the ARC process, and because at least half of its students reside in the city. Moreover, accommodating students from outlying areas is also a major function of TASSS, to which a majority of students are bused. The second rationale is not supported by any documented evidence, and moreover the same could be said of Adam Scott, while PCVS was at capacity and had historically experienced a slow rate of decline in enrolment comparable to Crestwood’s. We will see in subsequent posts what advantage was to be gained by excluding Crestwood at the outset.

Ultimately, the argument for the Accommodation Review was based purely on one criteria: under-utilization of facilities. It is difficult to understand what direct connection there could be between the capacity of the buildings themselves and the quality of the programming within them. But as this is the basis on which the Review proceeded, let’s play along with KPR’s numbers game for the sake of argument.

Together Adam Scott, PCVS, TASS, and Kenner have a capacity for about 4,000 students. The data report stated that only about 3,000 students were then enrolled, meaning that the schools as a group were operating at about 75% of potential capacity, well below the 85% threshold which is grounds according to KPR policy for considering a group of schools for review. KPR policy states that “administration should bring to the attention of the Board” any schools which may fit this criterion. However, the policy clearly does not necessitate that a review be undertaken as a result. A great many schools in Ontario have fallen below 50% capacity before being put under review and still been perceived by their communities and independent observers to be functioning well, as evidenced by recent ARC documents from other Boards and Fraser Institute ratings (more on this in future posts).

A further decline was projected for 2014 to under 60% overall for the four schools under review, while figures from the ten years prior show a decline from a near-capacity situation across all five schools. The total loss over this period amounted to about 100 students per year, meaning that on average each of the five schools had 20 fewer students in each successive year between 2000 and 2010. The projection implied that this decline would significantly accelerate, though it remains unclear on what basis the projections were carried out, or how accurate one would expect them to be, particularly given the divergence of the projections for 2010-11 from the actual enrolment as documented on the data sheets themselves.  

Adam Scott’s data sheet states that it has a capacity of about 1000 and was then at about 80%, having experienced a decline of about 20 students per year on average since the year 2000 (equal to the city mean). The data presented suggested that this trend was on the cusp of a reversal, and a corresponding increase was predicted to raise the secondary school population again to about 90% of capacity over a four year span.

Kenner’s data sheet states that it has slightly less capacity than Adam Scott, just over 900, and has experienced a less-steady rate of decline, but nevertheless it had also reached a low point of about 75%, down from near-capacity ten years prior. Its subsequent enrolment was projected to drop even more rapidly, however, down to about 50% by 2014-2015.

PCVS’s data sheet states that it is slightly smaller again than Kenner, with a capacity of about 850, and had been over-enrolled for the previous ten years. It had experienced a slower rate of decline than either Adam Scott or Kenner, and was operating at capacity at the time of the report – in fact, the only school in the city, including Crestwood, to be doing so. However, it was projected that enrolment would decline much more rapidly than before, plunging by an astonishing average of 60 students per year, significantly faster than Kenner’s decline and six times faster than the decline PCVS had experienced over the previous ten years, resulting in a projected student population in 2015 of about 540 or 64% capacity. No justification is given for this sudden acceleration of population decline, which is highly unlikely to be accurate.

TASSS’s data sheet states that it is the largest building of the group with a capacity of nearly 1300, or 30% larger than the next largest on this list, Adam Scott. Ten years ago it was already under-capacity by almost 200 students and is currently hovering around the 50% mark. The rate of decline had been on average 38 students per year, and this was projected to accelerate to more 66 per year between 2010 and 2014, at which time the school would be down to about 30% capacity. 

Crestwood’s information was not presented. Moreover, the link to its school profile on the KPR website is dead, as is the link on Crestwood’s own website. Typical of the secretive fashion in which it has become accustomed to operate, KPR has yet to respond to my requests for enrolment information. However, Crestwood's Wikipedia article states that its student population is “evenly split” between Peterborough and the surrounding area (though anecdotal evidence would imply that a greater portion reside in the city) and also that 61% of its students are bused. It also states that the student population was 1075 ten years ago, though the source of this number is not listed. I have taken this number as the estimated capacity of the building, in line with the enrolment trends across the city.

A recent Ministry of Education EQAO promotional page, undated but probably from last year, states that the school hosts between 950 and 1000 students. I have thus adopted a current estimated enrolment of 975. If these figures are accurate, then Crestwood has probably experienced a drop of about ten students a year over the ten-year span - about the same rate of decline as PCVS. In excluding Crestwood from review, Hick argued that Crestwood was “at capacity” (though it was 100 students shy by these estimated figures) and would not be experiencing the same degree of decline in enrolment as the other four schools. The expectation that enrolment would decline less quickly than other area schools is likely based on the pattern of urban sprawl Peterborough has been experiencing in the south-west due mainly to the area’s proximity to the highway and to other communities.

However, it is important to note that PCVS was in reality the only school at capacity at that time (not just at 90%) and had experienced a rate of enrolment decline similar to Crestwood, yet was nevertheless selected to be included in the review. Adam Scott was expected to be experiencing increasing enrolment, taking it over the 85% threshold, but it was nevertheless included for review. Sticking to Hick’s own numbers, Adam Scott, Kenner, and TASS were at the time of the report the only schools under-utilized to a degree warranting consideration for review. Yet Adam Scott's position was expected to reverse, leaving only Kenner and TASSS as likely to experience significantly reduced student populations.

Even still, it was clear that TASSS was by far the school experiencing the fastest declines and the only school at which the population would drop below 50% capacity by 2014-2015.

1 comment:

  1. S ave
    T asss
    A t any
    C ost:
    K awartha Pine Ridge School Board

    Very appropriate since stacking the evidence seems to be a speciality of KPR. By the way, the only two options presented to the Board by Staff kept the tremendously beautiful TASSS site. First as the new Education Centre, then as a school.