With the ARC process nearing its end, members aren’t satisfied
The working group meetings are over. The time to reflect on hundreds of pages of documents—information on the will and needs of the community, available funds, school profiles, needs of children, academic programs—is over.
Many on the accommodation review committees (ARC) say it wasn’t enough time. And yet the process is going ahead as planned.
The Hastings Prince Edward District School Board (HPEDSB) believes it needs to close schools. Declining enrollment in classrooms in the County combined with a funding formula that favours large centralized schools has convinced board officials that the solution is to close schools, sending more children on buses. On longer routes.
A proposal from the board, which initiated the ARC process, recommended closing four schools: Kente, Pinecrest, Queen Elizabeth and Sophiasburgh. It recommended retrofitting Prince Edward Collegiate Institute to become a school offering kindergarten to grade 12, and rebuilding a school in Wellington to replace CML Snider and accommodate both CML and Kente students.
There have been proposals about different ways to approach school closures. Variations in configurations. Pleas and reasoning to keep schools open where it was feared that closing those doors would mean the death of a community.
According to superintendent Laina Andrews, who is guiding the ARC process for HPEDSB, the committees have done well in collecting information and providing feedback to the board, but there is no indication any major changes have been made to the proposal as it appeared last November.
Some aren’t accepting that. Several members of the ARC have joined with other community members, including mayor Robert Quaiff, in discussing alternative solutions without the school board. The municipality has not responded to requests to comment on these meetings, although the mayor plans to speak during the next public meeting.
Wellington councillor and CML ARC member Jim Dunlop says the process isn’t working.
“The process is flawed, and things have just happened too quick. People can’t understand, if these proposals go through, how they’re going to get the high school ready for two schools. I think most people realize some schools have got to be closed,” says Dunlop. “We’re stuck at, we get the information at the meeting and you have an hour to read it and analyze it and ask questions.”
Dunlop hopes the province-wide pushback against school closures will help persuade the board to slow down the process.
Matti Kopamees, who is a community member on the ARC for Queen Elizabeth school, says he initially began participating in the process because he was interested in seeing the start times of schools change.
Kopamees, who has a child in the school system and whose partner is a teacher, noted that some kids climb aboard buses before 7 a.m. With long bus rides, early and staggered start times are not only affecting student success, they also take away from family time.
However, the more he saw of the process, and the more he felt frustrated by it.
“They’ve just put us into this damn box and taped it shut. And I’d rather be in a cage so I can get some air,” says Kopamees. “They’ve made the decision, they’re doing what they’re going to do, and it’s wrong, and there seems to be no way we can change it… They’re going to carry on and just bulldoze this thing through.”
We’ll just have to lobby these trustees who have nothing to do to the County and get them onside, and maybe the director of education will wake up and actually stand up for us,” said Kopamees.
The trouble is, apart from County trustee Jennifer Cobb, Kopamees says the trustees who will eventually have to decide on a final proposal have been largely absent and seemingly apathetic to the process, at least in Prince Edward County. Kopamees has felt the process was driven more by number crunchers than creative thinkers.
“We realize, schools have got to be closed, and there’s budgets, and this whole beancounting thing has to be done appropriately,” he says. “There’s no creativity. It’s just cut and dried. This is what it is and the numbers are going to work. It’s bigger than that, and nobody seems to realize that.”
Mike Farrell, a parent member on the Sophiasburgh ARC, says most of the work has been done outside of the process, in meeting with municipal staff and politicians, in discussing different options for Sophiasburgh with community members.
“We understand the board is doing work here, but it hasn’t been beneficial. Any of the real work, that’s not coming from any of these working meetings, of which there have only been two, to be honest,” says Farrell.
“We have a shortened timeframe, and just really, not enough time to do things within the constructs of the formal meeting process that the board has defined here, which has been one orientation meeting, one public meeting, two working meetings, and now we have a public meeting, and supposedly, the whole system is supposed to be set by then.”
Farrell says the Sophiasburgh ARC is determined to keep that school open, offering to utilize the empty space by investing in it to create a community hub and kitchen, growing rather than crushing the community in the County’s northeast.
“Right now we’re planning to keep the school going,” says Farrell. “We’re focusing on keeping our students where they belong, without the longest potential bus rides in the County, and with the green space and with the kind of environment that they expect and will continue to have at Sophiasburgh.”
Not everyone is frustrated, though.
Monica Lindsay, who is the student representative from Prince Edward Collegiate Institute’s ARC group, says the process has left her feeling reassured. The grade 11 student went into the process concerned her last year in high school would be marred by construction and chaos.
Instead, she says, the board seems to be listening to the public’s and the committees’ concerns about timelines and taking those concerns into account in developing a final draft plan.
The next step in the accommodation review process is a second and final meeting for public input. That will take place on Thursday, April 20 at 6:30 p.m. in the cafeteria at PECI.