So many reasons to keep Benson Public School open

The Editor:

I am a parent of a student that attended a school in the UCDSB.  It was Benson Public School in Edwardsburg/Cardinal Township.  I am fully aware that the board has successfully let enough time pass and this decision will not be reviewed.  Although the timing of the announcement of the flawed process was poor, and now our community will be suffering a tremendous loss.  I commend you for talking WITH the people and listening, instead of just inviting them to observe.  I applaud you for going to different schools to see what they had to offer.  To see how the schools tied a community together, unlike some of the UCDSB trustees who never came to the school to see what it had to offer before they voted to close it, and still say that full consideration was given.

Seen in photo above: Benson Public School. Photo courtesy of letter writer Becci Riddell

Myself and others have requested public meetings with the school board to review the decision, and they have been denied – or ignored.  It is wholly unreasonable to suggest that the schools that were closed under this flawed guideline should remain so because “that was the guideline in place at the time.”  To the best of my knowledge our trustee was to bring a discussion or motion to the table, but the Chair had sought a legal opinion and put a stop to it.  HOW is this in the best of the students?  Is this OUR tax dollars being used against us as a trustee that we have elected is not allowed to bring forth a motion or even discussion on our behalf?  Was that showing intent for a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation?  Any threat of legal action would be quite intimidating.  

 

The final numbers do not make any sense to me.  The per pupil utility cost.  The board average is $313.  We were told that ours is $330.  Benson was provided free heat.  We were told that our per pupil cost was included in the accommodation review in 2016.  $330 is from the 2015 school information profile, if $330 is the adjusted number should it not be different that the one in the 2015 report?  What is our per pupil cost with/without the free heat?  The school that we are accommodating with has a per pupil cost of $468.

 

In the final report, they have a transportation cost of $6000.  As I have mentioned in emails before, I fail to see how bussing children from their own community, to another school – only to be bussed back to where they live for events and activities such as meeting at the Cenotaph for the Remembrance Day ceremonies, free turkey dinner at the Church, trips to the fire hall, library visits, walks to the post office, helping and learning about the food bank, skating at the rink, swimming at the pool.  After their activities (which they had all walked to before), they will now be herded back onto a bus to go back to the school and gather their bags, and rounded back up again to bring them back to where they live for the THIRD time in one day.  I still cannot wrap my head around that.  My child will be bussed 468 kms, 5.85 hours to activities that he used to WALK to, PLUS 6084 kms 76.05 hours to and from school.  I spend at least $3000 in gas a year, and that does not include maintenance, insurance or a driver.  It would be interesting to see how they arrived at $6000!  These activities were provided at no cost before.  Will there be a cost now?  Will these outings just cease to exist?  There has been no transparency or communication about this going forward.  I’m sure it was talked about since everything was done with full consideration, but the UCDSB has not communicated if the parents will be picking up more costs in the new school year, or the extras activities will even continue.

 

The square meter utility cost at Benson school that is closing is $9.01 (board average is $21).  Is this including the free water and sewage that the municipality has offered?  Again, this number is taken from the school information profile from 2015 so I can only assume that our number is not accurate since this offer was made in 2016.  The school that they are being consolidated with has a square meter utility cost of $19.22. That school is on a well and septic, since the students will be doubled can their utilities handle the increase in capacity?

 

We had asked for these costs to be peer reviewed.  This was not an insult.  These are large expenditures, and business wise it would be the smart thing to do.  When asked, the board had replied that they were unaware of any school board that had subjected the Ministries FCI data to be peer reviewed.  In asking for a peer review we were not asking for the board to speculate or scrutinize  the details of the database. We as petitioners who are parents and members of the community who have a vested interest in the future of our school were asking for the peer review.  As you have already proved not all processes are perfect and CAN be improved.

 

Accessibility has also been used against us.  As far as I can see in the information profile, there has not been an actual audit done as of May 2016.  There is a ramp, and the main floor is completely accessible.  It has never been an issue of past students requiring accessibility.  

 

Parents and residents of Edwardsburg/Cardinal township deserve answers instead of roadblocks.  We have put a lot of time and effort providing full disclosure, the same transparency would be appreciated.

 

I am truly sorry that Benson Public School in Cardinal was not included in one of your stops along the way.  I am sure that you would have been pleasantly surprised by the sense of family and belonging in this gem of a school.

 

Becci Riddell

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