More than 100 community members attended the second and final public meeting for the Hastings Prince Edward School Board’s accommodation recommendations Thursday night at PECI.
The board made its recommendations last fall to fight declining enrolment and capital needs. Accommodation Review Committees (ARC) were set up to discuss the draft plan which outlines combining students from Pinecrest in Bloomfield and Queen Elizabeth in Picton at PECI this fall; sending students from Sophiasburgh to PECI in the fall of 2018; and seek funding to consolidate Kente Public in Ameliasburgh with CML Snider in a new school in Wellington for September 2020.
Dr. Charles Pascal, a professor who served as special advisor on early learning to Premier Dalton McGuinty in 2007, called the formula for the process flawed and ismoving too quickly – especially for this rural community “that you just can’t compare to urban centres such as Belleville and Toronto.”
Pascal, who moved to the County 14 months ago, said it should be left to “the creativity of Prince Edward County solve the problems the board is trying to solve too quickly, and too narrowly.”
“If I were to pick one indicator of how we are doing as a civil society, it would be how long it takes a Grade 3 student to get to school every day.”
The community of Sophiasburgh is proposing a multi-purpose “hub” in effort to save its school.
ARC member Mike Farrell spoke of the inclusion of child care, community kitchens and gardens and others who would pay to utilize space at the school, coupled with possibilities of grants being available.
ARC member Evelyn Wison spoke about busing of students from the Kente area to Wellington and questioned costs of new and extended bus runs, and the length of a school day that would see some students leaving home while it’s still dark in the morning, and returning as darkness falls in the evening.
Ahead of the first public meeting in February, Mayor Robert Quaiff and councillor Bill Roberts, during a conference of the Rural Ontario Municipal Association, met with Education Minister Mitzie Hunter to request the process be slowed down for the County, and other rural schools across the province.
They urged the minister to re-write the accommodation review guidelines to consider impacts of economy and rural communities.
Ahead of Thursday night’s meeting, Mayor Quaiff sent a six-page letter to the minister outlining the municipality’s disappointment and concerns with the process.
He noted a memo from Hunter from March 6 in response to voices of discontent from a number of jurisdictions. The ministry indicated that in the spring of 2017 it plans to “launch an engagement on new approaches to supporting education in rural and remote communities,” to be overseen by MP Lou Rinaldi.
Based on current timelines, Quaiff told the minister the County would never benefit from the upcoming engagement and requested the the ministry “halt the process of consolidation happening in many rural and remote communities” until potential solutions are available.
He noted the local school board responded to the memo April 11, stating concerns that the community would question the validity of the current review process and asked the province for reassurance it would not undo the responsibility of trustees to make local decisions… including the community consultation process.
“While we can accept that changes to public education in our community are highly likely, we cannot accept this process and that the proposed solution needs to happen with the current amount of haste and with such little engagement or opportunity for the municipality to be involved,” said Quaiff. He also stated the municipality has seen no numbers that show how the proposed consolidations will yield savings.
The final decision is scheduled for the school board’s meeting June 19. Laina Andrews, superintendent of school climate and well-being, stated she is confident the high school would be ready to accommodate 650 more students come fall.
They mayor, in his letter, believes it would be “logistically impossible to design the necessary changes to the building, apply for and gain required building permits, prcure the contractor and then complete the renovations to both the indoor and outdoor spaces in the 77 days from decision to the beginning of the school year.”
“By suspending, or at very least slowing down the process, we can participate in the province’s engagement program this spring and could very well develop a solution that benefits all parties involved,” said Quaiff.
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