Concerns are growing in Prince Edward County about the effect school closures and consolidations could have on students, parents and economic development.
On Monday, the Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board agreed to move ahead with three separate accommodation reviews of 19 elementary and secondary schools in the County, Belleville and Centre Hastings due to declining enrolment and aging infrastructure. Six of the County’s eight schools could see huge changes including complete closures and consolidations. The school board is dealing with capital needs totalling $250 million over the next 10 years. Over the past decade, enrolment at elementary schools has dropped 21% and 26% within secondary schools. The report recommended closing Pinecrest and Queen Elizabeth elementary schools in 2017 and sending those students to Prince Edward Collegiate for September 2017. The report also suggests closing Sophiasburgh Central in 2018. PECI could then receive $17.5 million in renovations to accommodate the elementary students. It is also recommended that CML Snider in Wellington undergo a complete rebuild in 2020. Kente public school would be closed and those students would go to CML.
Questions relating to potential economic impacts were brought to the forefront after a report was released Thursday by the Community and Economic Development Commission (CEDC). The report concluded people between the ages of 20 to 44 from outside the municipality are showing a huge interest in the municipality and there are fears families could bypass or move from the County altogether if the schools are closed. The CEDC has been working on multiple initiatives including ‘Build a new life’. The committee of the whole learned this campaign has shown great strides in piquing the interest of new residents to the County, especially its target – young working families. (Quinte News will have more coverage on the CEDC report on Friday).
Both mayor Robert Quaiff and Director of Community Development Neil Carbone expressed their concerns given the fact access to quality education is a huge draw for attracting young working families to an area and keeping existing ones.
Mayor Quaiff who was present at Monday’s meeting said he has tremendous respect for the school board trustees and the decisions they are tasked with, adding he is pleased the municipality is being consulted. He admitted the closures will impact economic stimulation going forward.
Carbone agreed there is deep concern.
Quaiff had a lengthy conversation with Hastings and Prince Edward MPP Todd Smith on Thursday about their role in assisting parents and grandparents with the possible transition. Both mayor Quaiff and MPP Smith agreed they will have an open door for anyone needing it.
MPP Smith also commended the school board for the difficult decision it’s facing, pointing to the fact the Ministry of Education has removed the five year review period forcing them to make these decisions quicker than they would like.
MPP Smith said he is hearing from a number of parents and grandparents across Quinte who are upset by the announcement, adding he was in attendance for a protest at Queen’s Park on Monday on the issue as 600 schools across the province are at risk of closing.
“When you pull a school out of a community property values are going to plummet in that area and growth isn’t going to happen,” said Smith. “If you want to kill a community the quickest way is to close a school.”
MPP Smith who is also the Hydro One critic suggested the rising cost of electricity as being one of the root causes at issue. He said the proof is in the financial documents obtained into Demonstration Schools that have been fighting to stay open.
“The schools in Belleville, Milton, London, Brantford and Ottawa are paying $700,000 more per year on their electricity bills than they were in 2009.” Smith stated. “The Centre Jules-Leger in downtown Ottawa and Sagonaska School in my riding have seen their hydro spike by 62%.”
Going forward there will be a set of two public meetings with the earliest being January 16, 2017. The second will come no earlier than March 21, 2017. A final report from the administration will come at a date no earlier than April 4, 2017.
Parents and guardians with questions are encouraged to contact their child’s principal or Director of Education Mandy Savery-Whiteway at (613) 966-1170 ext: 2201 or firstname.lastname@example.org