With the community consultation period coming to a close, the trustees of School District 72 will decide next week on whether to go ahead with the closure of Discovery Passage and Oyster River Elementary schools at the end of the current school year.
With the Oyster River community still adamant that they should be removed from the process and given the same consideration as facilities like Quadra, Sayward and Cortes – schools whose capacity and operating expense issues will be considered under Phase 2 of the district’s 10-Year Facility Plan – the district insists they can’t change the plan once it’s been initiated.
“We’re involved in a process that has been delineated by legislation, and we have to follow that process,” Trustee John Kerr said in response to yet another request to remove the school from the consideration process at the final public consultation meeting held in the Oyster River Elementary Gym March 3.
“We started the (closure consultation) process on Jan. 12,” Kerr continued. “That process is outlined in legislation and we now have to follow that process for 60 days. If we change what we’re doing before before we reach a decision on March 16 for this school – March 15 for Discovery Passage – we compromise that process. If the decision is made to close the school, it will be closed. If the decision is made to keep it open, then it will be dealt with in Phase 2,” he said.
Phase 2, after all, begins on March 17, after the closure voting takes place, whether they vote to close the schools or not.
Basically, the board could grant the community’s request to move the school into Phase 2 – along with Discovery Passage for that matter – simply by voting no next week.
“Phase 2 is not some magical thing,” Kerr told the crowd at Oyster River. “It’s what happens next.”
Most concerned members of the public and parents at both facilities under closure consideration seem to have decided that the Board of Education isn’t the bad guy in this scenario – merely one of the victims of the chronic underfunding of the public school system in the province – but they still say more could be done to remedy the situation before closure is necessary and are urging the board to give them more time to find solutions by voting against closure next week.
The district’s Contingency Fund, suggested some at the last round of consultation meetings, could be used to float the schools for another year while alternatives are considered and acted upon.
At the last meeting of the board, there was discussion that if the district continues to hold a contingency fund in reserve, the Ministry of Education could just come take it, leaving them with nothing to show for it, so why not use that money to keep these schools open a bit longer so they can figure out solutions, some asked.
After all, 60 days isn’t very long to come up with viable alternatives once you find out your school is under consideration for closure, the parents say, but with more time, they are confident they could find a solution that would work for the district, the ministry, and the community.
The public meetings of the board to discuss what they’ve heard and vote on the closures take place at the School District Offices at 425 Pinecrest Road on Tuesday (Discovery Passage) and Wednesday (Oyster River) next week (March 15 and 16). The meetings are scheduled to begin at 7:30. All other district business discussions have been postponed to leave these meetings exclusively for closure discussions and decisions.