| May 14, 2009

Back to HomeEditorial - May 14, 2009 Sharbot Lake PARC to get down to brass tacksEditorial by Jeff Green

The Program and Accommodation Review Committee (PARC) for the Sharbot Lake family of schools (Sharbot Lake High School and its feeder elementary schools in Mountain Grove, Parham, Sharbot Lake, and Plevna) will be meeting three times this month.

Their job will be to come up with a plan for the number and character of the schools in Central and North Frontenac for the next 30 or 40 years.

They have been meeting for several months now, and have been acquainting themselves with all of the issues that the Limestone Board faces in making decisions about building and upgrading schools. The idea behind the PARC process is that the people from the affected communities – parents, teachers, township councilors - should have the opportunity to learn all of the details of the problems facing the school board in regards to aging schools, educational demands of the future, and declining enrolment.

Then, that group has the opportunity to propose a solution. While the solution will not be binding on the board, which will make its own decision, it will have a certain amount of political weight.

During the meetings that have taken place, the PARC has been spending most of its time listening. They have received a crash course in enrolment statistics, new school standards, etc. Last month they had a brainstorming session and came up with about 10 proposals for a new system in the region, which ranged from keeping all the schools open, to closing all of them (save Clarendon Central) and building a single Kindergarten to grade 12 school in a yet to be determined location.

Over the next three meetings they will narrow down that list.

Two related factors that were brought out at their previous meeting on April 30 will likely play a central role in that narrowing down.

Roger Richard, the school board financial officer, said that as the previous two PARC processes that the board undertook last year (in Kingston East and Greater Napanee) reached the point that the Sharbot Lake PARC has now reached, the Ministry of Education informed the board that tentative funding to build a new school had been approved. This gave those PARCs something to shoot for. It is a lot easier to agree that a school should be closed if there is the promise of a brand-new, improved school as the result.

Thus far, the Sharbot Lake PARC does not have that promise from the province, and without it they will be much more inclined to say, “Let's just keep what we have.”

Roger Richard also said that when the board staff looked at the amount of money the province approved for Kingston East and Greater Napanee, it amounted to about $16,000 for each student who is projected to attend the new school.

This number could be very important.

If the Sharbot Lake PARC agreed to close all the schools (save Clarendon Central) and build one new Kindergarten to grade 12 school complex, the projected enrolment in that school for 2014 and 2015 would be about 600 students.

A quick calculation suggests that if the province decides to fund a school, they will not want to spend more than $10 million on it. ($16,000 x 600 students = $9.6 million)

Two hard realities arise from this. If the PARC wants to save a school or two, and build a new school for fewer students, the province will not likely give them as much money to build.

Secondly, even if the PARC agrees to wholesale closures, $10 million is not a lot of money to build a facility that could accommodate the needs of children from ages 6 to 18.

Four or five years ago, a new public school was built in Perth at a cost of over $7 million. The school is nice; it has a massive double gym, but it is an elementary school, and construction costs only go up.

The bottom line is that a $10 million comprehensive school will be pretty basic, and will not necessarily mean a great improvement in the range of course offerings.

There would be, however, an opportunity for partnerships with new construction. The school board and the Ministry of Education are open to other entities, governmental and not-for-profit, that would like to fund add-ons to a school.

So, if money were found for a youth centre, one could be included with a school. Similarly, a theatre, which could be used by the school, the North Frontenac Little Theatre, and as part of a tourism strategy, could be part of a new school if funding can be found.

These options might be possible, but they certainly won’t be on the table for the PARC this month, as they hammer out their recommendation.

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