School's closure feared
Ian McInroy Photo - Families of students attending north-Barrie's six Catholic elementary schools fill St. Marguerite d'Youville Catholic School gymnasium on Thursday night for the fourth public meeting of the pupil accommodation review of their school.
There were more numbers to hear, more impassioned pleas to make and some hard facts to swallow.
Families of students attending north-Barrie's six Catholic elementary schools crammed into St. Marguerite d'Youville Catholic School on Thursday night for the fourth public meeting of the pupil accommodation review of their schools.
A Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board staff draft recommendation, which won't be acted upon until later this year, has suggested closing Marguerite d'Youville and redistributing its 217 students to the other five schools -- Monsignor Clair, St. Mary's, Sister Catherine Donnelly, St. Monica's and The Good Shepherd -- as a way to combat financial pressures from less funding and declining enrolment numbers.
The pupil accommodation committee looking into all six schools has also settled on two options at this stage of the review, one of which will also be devastating for one school community.
Option B would also see one school close with the students sent to other schools and Option D would utilize empty classroom space (there are now 23 empty classrooms between the six schools) for board staff and services, either at numerous schools or one.
Parents were angry with proposed options that would see St. Marguerite d'Youville -- or any school -- closed and told board representatives as much, adding there should be more interest expressed in Option D.
St. Marguerite supporter Mary Flynn also wants to see that option explored, describing her school as one in which children receive a "faith-filled learning experience."
"That's what we believe in, it's why our children are there under the guidance of Mrs. Cinelli and the devoted staff and teachers at St. Marguerite," she said.
"We don't want that to be taken away from our children when there is another option available allowing for the use of the surplus classrooms," she said. "No school would be closed; no current school boundaries would be revised; no teachers and school staff would be affected."
One mother suggested board staff "should feel the impact" of being displaced while they are moved into classes that could be renovated into office space, instead of children being uprooted and forced to go to a new school.
"We have carefully reviewed the option of integrating board staff into a school environment and it doesn't come out as the best option for a few key reasons, including student safety, a surplus of 15 empty classrooms and the long-term cost savings would be significantly less than closing a school," said board controller Glenn Clarke. "There are often non-board employees that meet in our board offices and some of these guests may not have criminal background checks. This could be a safety concern in a school environment." Clarke estimated it would cost $1.6 million to reconfigure a 12,000 square-foot portion of a school for office and meeting space.
Many St. Marguerite parents were concerned about a letter sent home with students on Feb. 8 which outlined the board staff's draft option of closing the school and redistributing its students. Many thought it should have included a reference to Option D.
"A parent reading that letter would absolutely be led to believe that there is no other option," Flynn said.
But school officials reiterated on Friday the letter was only describing the staff's single option and not the pupil accomm o d at i o n committee's two options.
Many parents were passionate about their love for the school and its important place in the community and saddened to think that financial considerations could eventually rule the day.
"Don't penalize our faith because of problems with the economy," one said. "We're a family here. Leave it that way," added Carrie Snow.
Clarke said the release of the Drummond report this brings into "stark reality" the need for the province to make cutbacks.
"We don't know what Drummond's recommendations will translate into for education, but we do know that there will be a call for everyone in the public sector to make tough and prudent decisions with regards to cost savings. Unfortunately for us that means taking a hard look at the empty classrooms and a declining student population in north Barrie," he said. "It is difficult for us to suggest closing a school in one of our communities, but we have an obligation to make the most financially sound decision that we can based on the facts that we have before us."
Flynn said displacing students won't be easy and that parents may take action.
"The students of St. Marguerite will witness the closing of their school. That will not be an easy transition for these children or their families," she said. "I believe that families affected by a school closure and boundary changes will pull their children from the SMCDSB and enrol them in the public system, taking their tax dollars with them."
The pupil accommodation committee will deliver a report to the director of education in March. On April 11, a staff report will be provided to the board of trustees. The trustees will hear public input on May 14 at a special board meeting and a final decision is not anticipated until June 20.