by Deron Johnston

North Grenville District High School was the stage for the last two meetings of the Upper Canada District School Board on the subject of closing the twelve schools selected by board staff in their final report. This past Wednesday and Thursday nights were the last chance these schools had, to plead their cases to the Board of Trustees.

On Wednesday night, Oxford On Rideau Public School had two presentations made on their behalf. The first presentation was by Shawn Berube, who mentioned that North Grenville is the fastest growing municipality in the UCDSB. The closing of Oxford On Rideau (scheduled for closure in September 2018) is dependent on space being available at South Branch Elementary School. Just last week, we learned in the North Grenville Times that NGDHS students have been taking classes at South Branch, due to a shortage of room in the high school. However, according to Shawn, even if the NGDHS students left South Branch, the spaces it would create would still not be enough for all of the Oxford On Rideau students, without using portables (which the board no longer considers part of the plan for students). Even the new Kemptville Public School will open its doors over capacity. It simply makes no sense to close a school where there is this kind of residential growth and a shortage of student spaces.

Later in the evening, Katie Lekx-Toniolo made a presentation on change management, in defence of Oxford On Rideau. She spoke about the community feedback (which a group of concerned parents organised), that had been received through a survey, which outlined issues like the community desire for collaboration and discussion before changing boundaries and programming. She also talked about the desire for developing enhanced programming at Oxford, and was concerned that, if students were moved, they would get less gym time, less library time, and less attention from teachers, because of larger classes. She also made the case that Oxford is a rural school, and that schools in Kemptville are not considered rural. French immersion was also suggested as an option for Oxford, but the UCDSB considers the Oxford Mills school contains “not a sufficient population to accommodate effective programs in French Immersion and regular French programming.”

On Thursday night, MPP Steve Clark also made a presentation to the trustees. MPP Clark challenged the trustees to stand up to the Ministry of Education to put a moratorium on rural school closures. He explained that seven of the twelve schools marked for closure were in his riding, and that “one in four elementary schools this board has in Leeds and Grenville are slated to close.” Steve was frustrated that the board “didn’t move forward on some of the suggestions that municipalities offered them to work together.” Some of the trustees didn’t appear to appreciate MPP Clark’s lecture. One went so far as to say that Clark’s own Progressive Conservative Party, under Mike Harris, introduced the current per-pupil funding model which had created the current situation in Eastern Ontario and across the province.

It’s difficult to understand why Oxford On Rideau is being considered for closure, especially with the high population growth in North Grenville and the current deficit for student spaces. Surely, with more time to sit down with municipalities and parents, some creative solutions could be found that would have less of a negative impact on students than just the outright closing of their schools. Even taking the time to review the current funding model for education would be a good idea, considering that the current formula favours larger urban centres. Many people feel that, through this whole process, the decisions had already been made to close the schools, and that this was just a token effort by the provincial government to try to convince people that they had listened. I guess we’ll find out when the final vote happens on March 23. Please consider contacting our trustee Lisa Swan at 613-926-1597, or 613-213-2818 (cell), or email her at [email protected], to do what you can to stop yet another blow to rural Ontario residents.

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