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Residents want more time to consider changes to schools

Director of Education Mandy Savery-Whiteway and Chair of the Board Lucille Kyle (foreground) listen as Evelyn Wilson addresses the crowd about long bus rides for those who live in the northern parts of the County.

County residents want more time to consider drastic changes to the community’s schools and the mayor has already taken concerns to higher ups.

About 200 people gathered inside Prince Edward Collegiate Institute’s auditorium Wednesday night for the County’s first public meeting for the school accommodation review.

Six of the County’s eight schools are affected in proposals for closures and changes due to declining enrolment and capital needs.  Three schools (Pinecrest, Queen Elizabeth and Sophiasburgh) would close and students would be moved to the high school. CML and Kente schools are also proposed to be closed with Ministry of Education funding and approval to build a new school in Wellington for Sept. 2020.

Mayor Robert Quaiff said that while attending the Rural Ontario Municipal Association (ROMA) meetings this week he also met with Premier Kathleen Wynne and Education Minister Mitzie Hunter and asked to slow down the review process across the province.

“In her delivery to ROMA, she said she wanted school boards and municipalities to work very closely together. When we had our one-one-one, she encouraged that conversation and I pointed out to her that school boards are agencies of the province and she, along with her minister of education, should reach out to the school boards as well.”

He said councillor Bill Roberts urged the minister of education to re-write the accommodation review guidelines to consider the impacts and economy of rural communities.

Quaiff, who recently became one of 43 directors on the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, said all of AMO’s 444 municipalities recently endorsed a moratorium on the ARC process closing rural schools.

“I do have to address Todd Foster’s comment (about building permits) because my CAO and I just looked at one another. We are the last ones who have to sign off on the building permits.”

Todd Foster and Jennifer Houghton, members of the Sophiasburgh ARC.

Todd Foster, a member of the Sophiasburgh Accommodation Review Committee, had shared his concerns about how PECI would be ready to welcome elementary students in September.

“It’s the timing. You have June 19 (for a decision) and school is starting September 5th. At the next ARC meeting Feb 16 I want you to show us. I want to see milestone dates such as selction of your architect and engineer to modify this building. I want to see design periods in there, your tendering period in there because you’re going to have to have a general contractor I assume. Your janitors aren’t going to do this. Also, you’re going to need a building permit and how long is that going to take? The actual construction itself, final inspections and then the occupacy permit from the man downtown here, the chief building inspector.”

Tammy Aman spoke to concerns about long bus rides and the mixing of younger and older students. She also said she feels like the decision had already been made because of the timeframe.

“Why haven’t we seen anything about tranportation yet? My child has a five-minute bus ride now. She’s lucky, but with special medical needs, what will an hour bus ride do?… Getting off the bus when it’s dark is not acceptable… It’s not just about numbers and money. And let’s not pretend that nothing’s going to happen with young kids being in the same school as older kids. Not that older kids are bad, but I can tell you that it’s not an “if” it’s a “when”. What is being done to ensure their safety?”

Barb Foster, a Sophiasburgh resident for more than seven decades drew applause when she said “It’s rural childrens’ right to be educated where they live. It’s about community and the value of a rural school. You take those schools away, you’re going to take away the community.”

While the evening drew more questions than answers, the Hastings Prince Edward Board of Education is compiling the concerns and will provide written documentation of the evening on its website.

Accommodation Review Committees (ARC) have been formed in each school community to share information, feedback and options. Each committee includes a principal, parent representatives, student, teacher, support staff and school council member. ARC members meet next on Feb. 16.

The next public meeting is set for April 20. The school board expects to make a decision on the recommendations at its June 19 public board meeting.

Filed Under: Featured ArticlesHastings & Prince Edward District School BoardLocal NewsPECI - It's a Panther Thing

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