Trustees to deliberate, decide fate of schools Thursday evening

Zandbergen photo, Nation Valley News

Nelson Zandbergen
Nation Valley News

KEMPTVILLE — Trustees with the Upper Canada District School Board will mull and decide the fate of schools proposed for closure when they meet Thursday, March 23, at North Grenville District High School.

Open to the public, the meeting begins at 6:30 p.m.

“This one will be strictly for the trustees to deliberate and decide on the recommendations in the final Building for the Future Report,” said UCDSB Communications Officer Cindy Peters, clarifying that no last-minute delegations will be lobbying or speaking to the board at the meeting.

Barring any “Hail Mary” amendments by the trustees themselves at the table that evening, they’re expected to vote on the proposed closure of a dozen schools as recommended in the board’s final staff report released last month — and as per the agenda for the meeting.

Among the targets is Rothwell-Osnabruck School, where high school education hangs in the balance. Should trustees go ahead with the entire slate of recommendations, R-O’s Grade 7 through 12 population would move out next fall, leaving it as Junior Kindergarten through Grade 6 institution. The idea has galled South Stormont Council and residents who have continued to lobby hard for the school this month.

Also on the line is North Stormont Public School in Berwick. That school would also shut down, contingent on government funding to expand Roxmore Public School in Avonmore to accommodate the incoming Berwick students.

Thursday’s meeting will cap an unhappy process that began last September when the UCDSB shocked the region with the proposed closure of 29 Eastern Ontario schools.

That has since been eased back to the dozen sites recommended by staff in their final report last month. Seaway District High School, Morrisburg Public School, Char-Lan District High School and Longue Sault Public School were among those pulled from proposed closure list.

But R-O and NSPS didn’t get the reprieve their supporters were hoping for.

Trustees will not postpone a decision on the recommendations put in front of them Thursday evening, either. “There will be a decision,” Peters insisted.

The meeting agenda is already available online.

The session will also serve as the culmination of a pair of special meetings, March 1-2, where affected communities lobbied trustees directly. Several delegations spoke on behalf of R-O, including South Stormont Mayor Jim Bancroft and Councillor Donna Primeau, who pushed back against Tagwi Secondary School’s stated support for the latest recommendations.

Primeau suggested the Avonmore-based high school be reconfigured as a JK through Grade 12 institution, like R-O, leaving both facilities in place, rather than shifting Ingleside’s older grades to Tagwi.

Bancroft pointed out that South Stormont has hosted high school education for over 100 years, with R-O’s secondary grades established and built by Ontario Hydro as the direct replacement for a school that stood in one of the township’s villages lost during the Seaway construction.

On behalf of North Stormont Public School, accountant Amy Sanders Michaud — former member of the Accommodation Review Committee — bluntly highlighted how her school was unique in being able to tap the Nation Rise Wind Farm’s planned community fund. She dismantled the notion of cost savings by consolidating students in Avonmore and assured trustees that many parents would switch to St. Mary’s Catholic School in Chesterville if Berwick shuts down.

North Stormont Councillor Randy Douglas, a supporter of NSPS, told Nation Valley News this month he was “disappointed” at the Tagwi Secondary School delegation for asking trustees to vote in favour of the final recommendations. Those recommendations, noted the councillor, include the closure of NSPS in the same township.

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