PARRY SOUND – William Beatty and Victory schools are still closing as planned. But so is at least one more Parry Sound area school.
William Beatty School.
William Beatty School and Victory School, as well one more, will close, said Near North District School Board Chair Kathy Hewitt.
North Star file photo
Grade 7 and 8 students will still move to the Parry Sound High School in 2014.
And a deal to purchase land for a new elementary school that will house students in Kindergarten to Grade 6 is a signature away after trustees approved the transaction during a closed session of last week’s Near North District School Board meeting.
Near North board chair Kathy Hewitt clarified plans for the new school, the high school and an upcoming public consultation process during a conversation with the North Star Tuesday.
“It is a done deal as far we know, said Hewitt of the new school property. “We signed an offer to purchase, we agreed to a price and terms and conditions.”
The board and staff have decided a new school will house students from Kindergarten to Grade 6. William Beatty and Victory Public schools will close as recommended in 2009. And an accommodation review committee (ARC) will spend 120 school days consulting with the community and look at closing at least one more school in the Parry Sound area.
All the changes come as the province pressures the board to cut back spending.
The province announced $12 million in funding for the new elementary school in 2009 after a public review committee determined replacing the two aging Victory and William Beatty elementary schools with one new building was the best solution to the problems of dropping enrolment and deteriorating infrastructure.
Originally, the new building was to open in time for the 2012-13 school year and house all Victory and William Beatty students, from Kindergarten to Grade 8.
It took more than two years to find a site, and another year to get close to signing the transaction. The board announced in November a year ago that it had found the property, the former site of a trucking depot on Beatty Street. Now, environmental problems have been fixed by the seller allowing the deal to proceed.
But the $12 million was never enough for the new K-8 school, Hewitt said.
“The government had given us money for the school, but with architects’ planning, (the price) was coming way above it,” she said.
The finance branch of the Ministry of Education suggested the board look at moving Grade 7/8 students into the high school, Hewitt said.
“They did say… take a look at that,” she said. “It was their way of saying we have no more money.”
Last week, Near North director Geof Botting painted a bleak picture of shrinking board revenues as per pupil provincial funding plummets with student enrolment.
“It’s not just a case of not enough money,” Hewitt said Tuesday. “It’s too many empty spaces and too many schools. The government is on the verge of bankruptcy, so we’re told.”
We have to be accountable here too. Drastic measures are what we have to do, partly because we didn’t do it a few years ago.”
Under previous staff direction, the board approached building closures piecemeal, Hewitt said. With a new director and superintendents, growing financial distress and no help from the province, the board is looking to make bigger changes, faster.
“As crass at it sounds, it’s a matter of dollars, there just aren’t enough dollars,” Hewitt said.
So, in Parry Sound, that means William Beatty and Victory closures will go ahead. So will the Grade 7/8 move, now delayed to the fall of 2014. And on Nov. 9, during an accommodation review meeting, board staff will present their recommendations for at least one other closure in the Parry Sound area.
According to Hewitt, McDougall and Nobel schools are on the chopping block.
In her opinion, Whitestone school, which receives some additional funding because it’s 20 kilometers away from the next nearest school, would remain off the list. Humphrey school, Hewitt said, she was not sure about.
She’ll wait and see what staff recommends in November.
“We are trying to keep rural schools open as long as we can, because they are so far,” she said.
After discussions on Nov. 9, the board is expected to approve its recommendation at the regular meeting of Nov. 28, starting a 120-day ARC process.
“On Nov. 9, we’ll have numbers, two or three schools for possible reconfiguration, and a best option,” said Hewitt.
After approval on Nov. 28, the ARC will consult the community and present its feedback.
“If (a different recommendation) makes more sense than the one we’ve got, we’ll probably change our minds,” she said. “It’s open and people have their input.”
But, Hewitt said, armed with all the information they can gather, the recommendation staff makes for closure will be a well-researched one that might still make the most sense following the ARC process.
“People don’t like change, and I understand that, and somebody has to bear the brunt of it,” she said. “That, sometimes, is us.”
On Monday night Parry Sound High School parent council chair Anelia Coppes said she’s begun to understand the new school will house students from Kindergarten to Grade 6.
But, that message hasn’t been transparent.
Coppes said, following her own conversations with the Near North chair and director, she understands the board still plans to move Grade 7/8 students into the high school in 2014, regardless of community feedback.
“I heard it from the chair, sevens and eights are moving,” she said. ‘It sounds like it’s K to 6 at the new school because there just isn’t enough money for K to 8. The $12 million in 2009 isn’t enough in 2013. That’s why Grade 7/8s are going to the high school. The Grade 7/8s are going there because of default, come out and say that,” she said. “That has never been a part of the conversation.”