Jeff Green | Feb 19, 2009
Back to HomeEditorial - February 19, 2009 Are school closings inevitable in Central and North Frontenac?Editorial by Jeff Green
That's the question that springs to mind after the first public meeting of the Limestone School Board's Program and Accommodation Review Committee (PARC)
Local board trustee Ann Goodfellow and PARC Chair Barb Mclaren took great pains to say the PARC is an open process. The results are not pre-ordained. It is not a top down process.
Or is it?
The PARC was set up by the Board, because the Board saw a problem and the PARC is charged with finding the solution. The problem is narrowly defined. The schools are substandard. Enrollment is low and is on a steady decline and the Board cannot make a business case to the province for replacement of schools to serve such small numbers of students. There must be a larger number of students in a single location to justify building new schools.
The PARC members are being led through a process that will develop their knowledge of financial concerns as well as pedagogical concerns. They are learning about what “prohibitive to repair means”, what it costs to build a school, fix a school, why a full, rich education cannot be delivered to a small number of children because the Board can only deliver the basics to back water schools.
All of this information will be available to the PARC members, and to the public as well, at Limestone.on.ca (click on accommodation).
It will be there, in black and white.
The PARC will have the option of recommending the status quo. But for them to do so, they will have to weigh their own desires to keep their kids' schools in place against what they have been told about their kids' educational needs.
They will be weighing this against the fact that their own communities, all of which are fragile, could shrink away if the schools close. The parents on the PARC, who are all volunteers at their children's schools, are inevitably going to find themselves squeezed by this process.
While the PARC is by no means bound by the recommendations in the Watson report, they are being bombarded with the same information that Watson used, information that they cannot ignore if they expect the Limestone Board of Trustees to take their recommendations seriously.
Ultimately, however, the Limestone Board really has no more authority in this than the PARC does. All of the underlying assumptions stem from the provincial government.
Hanging in balance is the need, a need that everyone recognizes, to improve the schools in the northern part of Frontenac County, including Prince Charles School in Verona. A plan to rebuild that school is on hold until the Sharbot Lake PARC has done its work.
At the very least, the PARC is going to have to seriously consider closing at least one or two schools.
Back in the old days the province would swoop in and close schools. Now, the provincial government is content to lurk in the background and create a set of standards that are impossible for small schools, particularly small rural schools, to live up to. Then they try to get the school board and the children’s own parents to vote for school closing.
The Sharbot Lake PARC will be a painful, divisive process.