An orientation session for the Accommodation Review Process (ARC) members led to some frustrations being vented by parents and community members about a timeline that gives the ARC members just five weeks to review information and make the best decision for the schools they represent.
The meeting, which was meant to prepare the six groups representing CML Snider, Kente Public, Pinecrest Memorial, Queen Elizabeth, Sophiasburgh and Prince Edward Collegiate, met at the high school on Wednesday afternoon to learn more about the process and what was being asked of them.
Parents, students, faculty and members of the community from each school are being asked to review information about the schools and a current proposal from the board to close and consolidate schools.
Questions about the process included how the board would accommodate the large distance parents would have to travel to reach PECI for public meetings, why Massassauga Rednersville school was not included in the study, and the board’s motivation behind the current plan.
But the most pressing question, and one many members felt was not sufficiently answered, was the timeline. The first public meeting for the ARC process will happen next Wednesday. After that, the members will only have a month before they have to present their findings.
The board of trustees will make a final decision on June 19, 2017.
Superintendent Laina Andrews and communications officer Kerry Donnell explained to the 54 ARC members and a small handful of public spectators that the process had been prescribed by the Ministry of Education, but some members refused to accept their explanation.
“These timelines, which you’re telling us are provincially mandated, set out the minimum time, not the maximum time,” said Philip Bender, a community member representing Pinecrest. “I think the concern is this process is being pushed through. And it’s feeling really condensed for those of us on the committee. We don’t think the board has an appetite to hear us. What’s the reason that it couldn’t be extended into the next school year? Maybe it’s funding. But that’s information that, unless we get the rationale behind it, we’re going to question this.”
Donnell attempted to explain the timeline. She says the school board’s policy, a policy mandated by the Ministry of Education before an accommodation review can take place, prescribes the process must take place within a school year. That makes the June 19 deadline a hard one.
“I am concerned about what people think of the timelines,” says Donnell. “It has to happen, within our world, within a school year. We extended the consultation phase, which delayed the ARC initiation and accommodation review recommendation… It’s the bigger picture that has to come into play here. Just to help people understand. I know it might not make them happy, but that’s the bigger explanation.”
But that doesn’t mean the recommendations the ARCs bring to the board of trustees must be an implementable plan. Once the ARCs review the board’s recommendation, along with any other information they receive about their schools, they may return to the board with any recommendation, including one that simply states they did not have enough time and that the process should be extended.
“That which is out there, it’s a starting point for discussion,” said Donnell. “And through the public consultation process, that’s where the ARC can have input to offer other suggestions, other options that could be considered.”
While she can’t know what decisions might be made, she concedes it’s possible the ARCs will recommend to extend the process. “If that’s something that the ARC comes up with and it goes to the enrollment capacity committee, that’s all part of the process,” said Donnell. “I can’t pre-judge here and say yes, that will in fact change the original recommendation or it won’t, but that’s the process that will happen, and that’s how it has to play out.”
Donnell also confirms that the board is looking into a request to grant the ARC for Kente a separate public meeting in the north. That will be addressed at the first public meeting, taking place tonight at 6:30 at PECI.