HEATHER BOA Bullet News SEAFORTH – A locally elected school board may not be necessary when it appears decisions for rural schools are being made by people in Toronto, says a municipal councillor.
“What’s the purpose of a school board and aren’t they creative or innovative enough to be fighting to save rural schools?” asked Brian Barnim, during a round table discussion between trustees and staff from the Avon Maitland District School Board and municipal representatives from across Perth and Huron counties Friday.
Barnim, who is a councillor in the Municipality of Central Huron, was a municipal representative on the recently disbanded accommodation review committee to determine the fate of students at Colborne Central Public School and Holmesville Public School. After reviewing a 336-page staff report, hearing numerous delegations, and reviewing minutes from six months of ARC meetings, the board sided with staff and decided to close the two rural schools. Trustees said closing both schools would create savings of $250,000 annually by eliminating excess capacity, promoting professional development, and improving education delivery.
“It’s not about rural, urban or anything. It’s about quality education,” said Randy Wagler, who is vice-chair of the AMDSB. He said they try to provide the best education to students in classrooms across Huron and Perth counties with the funding received from the ministry.
“I can guarantee you I will haunt this board to see those savings and to see the transparency and where those savings are,” Barnim said.
According to information provided by the Ministry of Education, preliminary estimates for the 2012-13 school year show that schools across the Avon Maitland District School Board have a capacity for 21,108 children, based on legislated class sizes. However, projected enrolment is 15,191 children in secondary and elementary schools, leaving 5,917 vacant spaces, or 28 per cent vacant space.
The ministry’s funding formula is based on enrolment.
Ted Doherty, who is director of education, noted the board would be more efficient if “theoretically, we got rid of a quarter of our schools.” However, he said it’s not practical because the closure of schools in both Huron and Perth has been difficult for both communities and the board.
Janet Baird-Jackson, who is the board’s superintendent of business, said they will begin to see the percentage of vacant spaces drop as schools are consolidated.
“I think trustees were surprised to see the numbers still so high. That’s a lot of empty spaces. It’s a little bit discouraging after we put so many communities through so much. That’s the reality of what we’re facing,” said Jenny Versteeg, who is the board’s chair.
“It’s exhausting. It’s so hard,” she said.
She hopes there will be no more closures in the near future.
Over the summer, board staff will meet with people affected by the new school boundary that will result from the closure of Colborne Central PS and Holmesville PS. As well, they will determine the transition committees for Holmesville PS students, who will attend either Goderich Public School, Goderich District Collegiate Institute – Elementary or Clinton Public School, according to the secondary school boundaries for Goderich District Collegiate Institute and Central Huron Secondary School, and for students from Colborne Central PS, who currently go to school in the old Victoria Public School building in Goderich, and will attend Goderich Public School, Goderich District Collegiate Institute – Elementary or Brookside Public School.