No more time
Trustees hear final comments before voting on school closures
The end is fast approaching for the school board’s accommodation review process. Last Thursday, those affected by the Prince Edward area reviews had their final chance to communicate their concerns to trustees before the elected officials vote on proposed changes on June 19.
To date, the proposed changes include the closure of both Pinecrest and Sophiasburgh schools this summer. Kindergarten to Grade 6 students at those schools would be moved to Queen Elizabeth school in Picton, while Grade 7 and 8 students from all three elementary schools would move to PECI.
Next year, the current proposal is to move the remaining Queen Elizabeth students to PECI, creating a kindergarten to Grade 12 school.
Other schools remain unaffected, although CML Snider, Kente Public and Massassauga- Rednersville schools have been identified as requiring a similar process within the next few years.
Last Thursday, the public had a final opportunity to communicate comments and concerns about the proposed plans to board trustees by sending delegates to the board’s Student Enrolment and Capacity committee.
Trustees heard seven delegations. Mayor Robert Quaiff spoke on behalf of the municipality of Prince Edward County, Julie Lane on behalf of the County’s public libraries, Mike Farrell and Todd Foster for the Sophiasburgh ARC, Janice Maynard and Kerri-Lee Roy for Kente, Selena Prinzen for CML Snider and J.J. Syer for Queen Elizabeth. Delegates were told there would be no questions to or comments from trustees.
Quaiff said the County supported the decision to put off the Kente and CML ARCs until Massassauga-Rednersville school is included in the process. Because the school only offers kindergarten to Grade 6, many students from the County’s northwest go to Kente for Grades 7 and 8. Without input from that school, closing Kente would mean families without a say in the process would see their children sent to Wellington for those two years.
Quaiff defended CML, highlighting Wellington’s growth, and stating the County is working with developers that would be building 700 new homes in the village within 20 years.
“I was disappointed to hear a trustee who did not attend any County ARC meetings utter the phrase, ‘this means we can’t touch CML Snider for five years’,” Quaiff told the committee. “How is this equitable? Why would trustees from other regions of the board expect Prince Edward County to be responsible for closing the majority of the schools?”
His comment was in reference to the fact that in the original proposal, more schools were slated to close in the County than in Belleville and Centre Hastings combined.
Quaiff said the County did support a K to 12 school in Picton, provided it was developed properly with adequate transitions.
“We support recommendation that allows for proper transition to PECI as a kindergarten to Grade 12 facility,” said Quaiff. “If the board and trustees are confident that PECI can be ready to receive kindergarten to Grade 6 students by September of 2018, we will support that. We will not waive traditional timelines for building permits.”
Quaiff did ask that the board give more time. Time for Sophiasburgh’s ARC to put together a proper business plan and funding model for their proposed community hub and commercial kitchen, and time for PECI to be properly renovated for its incoming students.
“These are not easy decisions and they will have longlasting impacts on the communities that are affected. Trustees were elected to make hard decisions about public education across the region in which they serve. Trustees owe it to their voters, the parents, the volunteers the community members, the staff and most importantly the students to show up and be engaged and make informed decisions,” Quaiff told the committee.
Time was a theme throughout the presentations.
In a joint presentation, Mike Farrell and Todd Foster spoke about the impact of losing the Sophiasburgh school, and reiterated their ARC’s plan to turn the school into a joint institution for education and community building.
“There’s not just an impact on the students and the school, there’s an impact on the community that’s generational,” Farrell reminded trustees.
“We’re asking the board for time, plain and simple,” said Foster. “We’re not asking for money.”
Although their part in the process is officially complete, the two continue to be part of a community group seeking funding both privately and through government agencies to build a community kitchen and food hub in the school.
The Sophiasburgh plan also includes help from the public library.
“The Sophiasburgh Central School Alternate Plan offers the library the opportunity to be an available and accessible community hub for the residents of Sophiasburgh ward and work closely with the children of Sophiasburgh Central School,” tech coordinator Julie Lane told council. She was there representing the County libraries. “It is important to the plan to ensure that the children attending a modified Sophiasburgh Central School do not sacrifice the quality of their education.”
Lane told the committee that the library would be willing to develop a full-service library space onsite at the school to further improve resources for the students and the community, including the resources it currently offers in its Picton and Wellington makerspaces.
J.J. Syer, whose eight-year-old daughter attends Queen Elizabeth School, was one of the parents on the Queen Elizabeth ARC. Syer spoke to trustees on behalf of her group. In that deputation, she quoted a letter to the board and trustees written by her fellow committee member, Grade 8 student Sarah Johnson.
“[The board, trustees and ministry] have the opportunity to elevate or ruin my education. Do not make a decision on a physical plan. It has to be a plan about how my education could be better,” Johnson had written. “Please give us time to make a good plan so we don’t just have to settle for the best of the worst just to save money.”
Syer told trustees the information and the process she has seen thus far has left her concerned there is no plan or guarantee for programming. She wondered why no one had discussed how renovations at PECI would affect the high school students. And she worried about the emotional stress transitions would inflict on young students. Kindergarten-aged kids from Pinecrest and Sophiasburgh, she pointed out, would attend three different schools before Grade 2.
“School closures are a big decision, and this one affects a large area and many students,” Syer reminded trustees. “It is an important decision which seems to be steamrolled along to appease a process. It does not reflect the best interests of our children. And for this reason, we respectfully request more time.”