The Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board received two new accommodation review reports on Monday surrounding the future of Belleville and Prince Edward County schools with recommendations that no longer include the closure and consolidation of Kente and CML public schools, for the time being.
In November 2016, the Board revealed a long-term capital and accommodation review of 19 of its schools in Belleville, Prince Edward County and Centre Hastings in order to address $250 million in capital renewal needs and declining enrolment. After months of meetings with accommodation review committees in all three areas, on Monday trustees were asked to consider a host of new recommendations ahead of the final June 19 report.
In Prince Edward County, new recommendations include consolidating Kindergarten to Grade 6 students from Pinecrest Memorial Elementary School, Queen Elizabeth School and Sophiasburgh Central School at the Queen Elizabeth School site to form a K to 6 school in September 2017. The board would then relocate Grade 7 and 8 students from the aforementioned public schools to Prince Edward Collegiate Institute, creating a 7-12 school in 2017. In 2018, students from Queen E would then move to PECI, creating a K to 12 school.
The original recommendation included consolidation of CML Snider School and Kente Public School.
“While a consolidation of these schools is still required to improve programming options and to reduce surplus space, feedback received through the accommodation review process and public input indicated that additional options should include all schools in the northern part of Prince Edward County,” the report stated. “As a result, this consolidation is not part of the final recommendation in this report and should be considered at a future time.”
For months parents took board officials to task voicing concerns that PECI would not be ready in time to house hundreds of youngsters by September 2017. Since the recommendations were announced, concerned parents spoke about the need to keep Kente open, suggesting Massasaga-Rednersville public school should close and consolidate with Kente instead. Accommodation Review Committee member and parent Evelyn Wilson pointed to long bus rides for children causing a reduced opportunity for family time and extra curricular activities. She revealed five extra buses would be required to transport Kente students to Wellington at a cost of $60,000 a year.
“Rural schools are the heart of the community in rural areas,” board trustee Dave Patterson expressed at the Monday meeting. “When I look at our long-term plan and what is being required of us – the closure of four elementary schools in one community it begs the question – ‘what’s the immediacy? It sounds like we are in such a haste to move beyond what is required of us.”
It was also revealed that the board wouldn’t be able to support a plan from the Sophiasburgh Accommodation Review committee to turn the school into a community hub, as the funds weren’t already committed to get it off the ground. As Quinte News reported previously, the ARC was proposing to apply for allocated government funds and transform the school into a multi-purpose facility to keep it open. (Our newsroom has reached out to the committee members for further comment.)
At Monday’s meeting, North Prince Edward County trustee Jennifer Cobb said in the County rural schools mean a lot to the community and any closures would have an adverse affect beyond just combining the schools.
“It has to do with a sense of place and identity more than quality programming through the board,” said Cobb.
In the report it states the board would continue to explore opportunities for community partnerships for the consolidated school(s), including child care opportunities, that are aligned with the 2015-2020 Strategic Plan priorities.
The public can voice their opinion on Prince Edward County school reviews on May 25 at 6:30 p.m. and on Belleville School reviews on May 29 at 6:30 p.m. Both meetings are at the Education Centre on Ann Street in Belleville.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Education is also hosting a community meeting on school closures at the Isaiah Tubbs Conference Centre on May 12 from 6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.