Local birth rates ‘ paint a much different picture’than the Watson report, says Brockton councillor

Peabody urges trustees to be skeptical of outdated and incomplete data Shoreline Beacon Tue Dec 6 2016 Byline: Jane Kent Source: Postmedia Network

Brockton councilor Chris Peabody is offering up some of what Bluewater board members have said they want to hear in the accommodation review process: data. Based on the data he has compiled he is urging the trustees of the Bluewater board to “use caution in accepting the recommendations of the Watson Report.” Chair Ron Motz had previously said at an Oct. 18 meeting that the board will not be looking ” at the emotional side ” but instead wants ” data and concrete reasons, including pointing out information the board may have wrong .” Peabody has gathered numbers from birthing centres in Hanover and Walkerton, which do “paint a much different picture ” than the numbers presented by Watson and Associates, the firm hired by the school board to assess how to deal with excess space and potential school closures. With this information, Peabody says the recommendation to close Paisley Central “is based on an incomplete projection of the number of children in the 0-4 cohort.” Currently Paisley Central and the high school in Chesley are undergoing the ARC process. The Bluewater board has proposed closing Paisley by the end of the 2017 school year, sending their students to a converted elementary-only school in Chesley. Chesley high school students, who are currently housed in the merged JK-12 Chesley Community School would be then bussed to Walkerton or Port Elgin. Peabody’s findings comes hot on the heels of Bruce County Council’s announcement last week that they would fund up to $20,000 to sanction another report, to re-assess the Watson report with more current information but also to include other data sets. The hospital data gathered by Peabody shows an increase of 46 % in births at the Walkerton birthing centre and a 27 % increase at the Hanover hospital since 2011 – which is the year of the last census the Watson report is based on. The census data, Peabody says “is five years out of date and does not account for children born between 2013 and 2016.” Numbers from both birthing centres are reflective of the region and not just Hanover and Walkerton, as this is where those in smaller, surrounding smaller communities go there to deliver. Due to privacy, hospitals cannot release information about which specific towns the parents are from. “The 0-4 age cohort had a population of 2,285 at these two birthing centres. The majority of these births are not accounted for in the Watson report ,” says Peabody. Data was also collected from the Brockton Recreation Department, which shows an increase of 40 % in minor sports registration at the JK level between 2011 to 2016, years not accounted for in the Watson report. When asked what the impetus was to seek out local birth rate data, Peabody said that as a co-op teacher at Sacred Heart High School in Walkerton he drives around to visit students at their placements and he noticed “a lot of moms and dads out during the day walking their babies.” He decided to look at what kind of concrete information he could find gather locally to support what he was seeing. Peabody says there has been “a large increase in births in the core of Grey-Bruce counties.” Peabody says that he while he has been drawing the same conclusions about the Watson report, that “some individuals at Bruce County Council were also realizing ” it needed to be updated. Recent developments such as the Bruce Power refurbishment and natural gas on the horizon could draw more young families to the area. Peabody says a peer review of the Watson report is a “huge deal ” as it has “not been comprehensively challenged yet.” He believes leaving Paisley without a school is “a radical recommendation ” and he urges the trustees to “cast a skeptical eye on the Watson report when making their decisions.” Peabody says he hopes that this data will help communities have discussions with trustees. “At the end of the day, the key message here for trustees ,” says Peabody, “is their legacy as a politician will be that they decimated a small rural community.” Peabody will present his findings at the Jan. 17 ARC meeting.