Nation Valley News
IROQUOIS — The CEO of Iroquois-based Ross Video suggests he may not proceed with a planned 40,000-square-foot expansion if the Upper Canada District School Board (UCDSB) carries through with a proposal to close Seaway District High School in the same community.
David Ross has recently highlighted the incongruity of a provincial government that wants to spur economic development by offering grants to his company — the tech firm previously received $654,707 to expand in 2009 — while the Education ministry now promotes the closure of rural Ontario schools, thereby damaging local economies.
But Ross went further when he addressed the Dundas family of school’s Accommodation Review Committee (ARC) on Nov. 17, saying his company would have to rethink plans to invest more in Iroquois should the closure of Seaway District High School go ahead and damage the community’s attractiveness to potential employees.
“You already know,” he said, repeatedly addressing the ARC panel in a way that acknowledged their position as (mostly) sympathetic parents, “about Ross Video’s financial contribution to the region … and that we have options. You know it makes me wonder about those options when you shut down the community school and damage the local community.”
The Emmy-winning company’s Iroquois factory produces $200-million in product each year, 70 percent of it bound for the United States over the nearby Johnstown bridge, he said.
Ottawa’s newly minted CEO of the year warned: “We get offers, like, monthly, from Ogdensburg.… You shut down the school, why shouldn’t I be in Ogdensburg? Why don’t I do my expansions there? We’re looking at a 40,000-square-foot expansion possibly as early as next year.
“And when I stopped for a second, I said, “Take a breath, this town [Iroquois] may die. And we may not have enough employees coming out of this region for us to invest in this region.”
Asked directly by panel member Joyce Latulippe if Seaway’s closure would give him “serious pause about future investment in South Dundas,” Ross simply replied: “Yes.”
The ARC was being “forced to implement … an unbalanced and unfair attack on the very fabric rural communities, and that would suck, so I’m sorry about that,” the tech executive said to the panel members during his address. He also expressed his “sympathy” to the panel “because, I believe, you’re being asked to look at madness.”
It was the presence of schools in Iroquois that drew the Ross family to relocate to the village to begin with, he recalled.
“Why am I here? Because I have doubled down on this community,” said the Seaway District High School graduate. He asserted the school’s population hadn’t “materially changed” since he attended 35 years ago — although the problem back then was large class sizes. “Now the problem is we have too much space, apparently, and we want to go back to the previous problem,” he wryly observed of the policy “pendulum.”
That the school has extra space is “a virtue,” he said. “That’s an asset, that is room to grow.”
The current “crisis” is the result of “an intentional change of policy,” he added.
Ross also drew attention to the “madness” of current government policy by acknowledging that even Longue Sault Public School is targeted for closure, despite a 96 percent utilization rate.
Seaway, he suggested, would otherwise qualify to stay open under a ministry policy dictating extra funding for schools at least 20 km from the nearest equivalent school. But the ministry is now “downplaying the consideration of how far they bus the kids … They’ve changed the game.”
A move by the UCDSB to shut Seaway would “kill” both the school and the neighbouring shopping plaza, he said, describing the impact as “pretty unique, I think, in this region.”
He added, “I’m not going to pit school against school. But when you look at North Dundas [District High School], they’re not in the same situation. There is no local big business that depends upon North Dundas. This is a very special school [Seaway], and it drives the community and it drives business.”
However, North Dundas District High School can’t be contemplated for closure, in Seaway’s place, because the Chesterville-area school wasn’t listed as a proposed site to shut down on the “Building for the Future” document approved by the board of trustees in September.
UCDSB Director of Education Stephen Sliwa confirmed for Nation Valley News earlier this fall that the ARC process won’t be permitted to add an unlisted school like North Dundas when the board holds a final vote on the issue March 23.
David Ross addresses the ARC committee in the video below.