'Super school' suggested in Emo after closur of schools in Barwick and Devlin

By Heather Latter
Staff writer

Following the Rainy River District School Board’s special committee of the whole meeting last Tuesday, several people expressed their ire over the recommendation to consolidate Donald Young, Sturgeon Creek, and Crossroads Schools in a new school in Emo.
“Overall, I’m very disappointment in the board recommendation,” said Krista Kellar, who chaired the accommodation review committee for Crossroads.
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“I’m not happy with the recommendation at all,” echoed Jackie McCormick, chair of the accommodation review committee at Sturgeon Creek.
“I think they are completely missing the whole picture,” she charged.
“They are not doing what’s best for our students.”
The future of these schools had been up for review since June, 2011, when concerns about declining enrolment and surplus capacity, facility condition, and loss of funding for small schools were brought forward.
Several different options were addressed in the analysis but it was “Option 3”—a consolidation of all three schools with a new school to be built in Emo—that ultimately was recommended, with the opinion by administration that it “has the greatest value to the student, to support and sustain student achievement and well-being.”
But Kellar and McCormick don’t feel that’s the case.
“Throughout the entire process, I kept thinking about how this is not about numbers, this is not a monetary evaluation, that the most important was the value to the students—and not once was that ever critiqued during the presentation,” Kellar said, noting the board’s presentation last Tuesday was all about the finances.
“Which pretty much made every aspect of the accommodation review process null and void,” she stressed.
“I felt the meeting was centered a lot around money and all the financial aspects of it, which I was told repeatedly that it was not about the money,” added McCormick.
“And I got the distinct impression that it is completely about the money.”
Financial information was provided for all the different scenarios, showing that a rebuild would put the board in a positive position of $517,749 annually, with an estimated 453.5 students.
Meanwhile, where a consolidation of the three schools in Emo might result in the loss of students from Naicatchewenin First Nation, the estimated net position presented was $598,963.
The financial review for the 2013-2014 budget for each school separately shows a total net position of $471,064 ($99,893 for Sturgeon Creek, $231,200 for Donald Young, and $139.971 for Crossroads).
“At the end of the day, I believe the board’s bottom line has nothing to do with the quality of my child’s education—it’s just a numbers game and that’s not how it should be approached,” Kellar remarked.
Both also felt there were discrepancies, as well as misleading and omitted information in the report.
“The board talked about how Rainy River First Nations had made it clear that they would pull their students as they wouldn’t travel further than Emo,” Kellar noted.
“However, looking at the accommodation protocol and correspondence, Rainy River First Nations never made a presentation during the accommodation review process at any of the schools, including at Donald Young.
“So where that opinion came from, I don’t know,” she said. “That was never made public to the trustees.
“And I personally felt that they really downplayed the fact that Naicatchewenin made it abundantly clear that they will pull their students if they can’t attend Crossroads,” Kellar added.
“They mentioned Rainy River First Nations and Naicatchewenin, and the effects of losing those students,” said McCormick.
“But as part of Sturgeon Creek’s accommodation review, we presented how many students the public board would lose if they closed our school,” she noted.
“I think it was over $300,000 a year they would lose because of kids going to the Catholic board or home-schooling, and they neglected to mention any of that.
“They spoke of not wanting to ruin their relationship with the First Nations, but never mention concern for ruining the relationship with parents and communities of the other schools that are not in the First Nation,” McCormick added.
“And that is upsetting because we are a very involved group of parents.”
McCormick said she also was upset that the board is applying for funding to build the consolidated school.
“At the same time no decision has been made by the trustees,” she stressed.
“That really concerned me, and I was concerned that the trustees didn’t question that at all.”
Issues of transportation times, and that a bigger school isn’t necessarily better, also were brought forth last Tuesday.
“They feel that by saving that little bit of money, we’re going to be able to provide services to our most vulnerable students, which was mentioned over and over again,” McCormick remarked.
“I’m hoping that all of the students who are not considered vulnerable get the same amount of attention when it comes to this process,” she added.
“They deserve to have the best education for them, as well, not only the vulnerable students.”
But Anne Marie Vanderaa, chair of the accommodation review committee at Donald Young, said consolidation will benefit the students.
“With the understanding that it would not be fiscally responsible or practical for a school in all three communities, I am pleased with the recommendation to build a new school for all students in a central location,” she noted.
“This will allow for a pooling of resources and support to enhance programming for students.”
She indicated there will be no significant increase in transportation costs and a reduction in operating costs.
“First and foremost, however, I feel that the needs of the students must be considered and a new school for all students in the area will meet those needs,” Vanderaa added.
Yet Kellar and McCormick have plans to continue the fight to keep their respective rural schools open.
“I know trustee Ralph Hill has our community’s best interest at heart,” Kellar said. “We could ask for no better advocate than him.
“I left the meeting feeling the trustees are seeing through it all and are really looking at the impact, not the numbers.”
“I really want some leadership,” stressed McCormick. “I really want someone to stand up and say I don’t care what the ministry wants us to do.
“This is not what’s best for our kids; it’s not what’s best for our board and the community’s we serve.
“I’m hoping someone is brave enough to do that.
“I don’t think the fight is over,” McCormick added. “I think we can appeal to the trustees and I’m hoping they can see what’s best for the kids.
“All three of our communities deserve to have schools in them,” she reasoned. “I think we all need to work together to make them see that.
“The best thing for the kids is to keep the three schools and operate them as is.”
Trustees are expected to make a final decision on the future of the three schools at their regular board meeting scheduled for Jan. 7.