Whit­bourne keeps fight alive

Premier, education min­is­ter un­re­cep­tive to overtures from par­ents, res­i­dents

The Compass - - FRONT PAGE - BY ANDREW ROBIN­SON

De­spite the im­prob­a­ble odds they face with a de­ci­sion al­ready made to close the com­mu­nity’s school, res­i­dents of Whit­bourne are not giv­ing up on the fight to save it.

Wade Smith, a Whit­bourne town coun­cil­lor who is also ac­tive on the school mat­ter, said those bat­tling to keep it open be­yond this month are send­ing emails and dis­tribut­ing a video mak­ing the case to keep the school open.

“We’re ac­tu­ally look­ing at le­gal rep­re­sen­ta­tion. We’ve had a meet­ing with a lawyer,” Smith told The Com­pass late last week.

Ac­cord­ing to Lorna Vokey and Deanne March, two par­ents who have ac­tively worked to re­verse the New­found­land and Labrador English School District (NLESD) board’s de­ci­sion, en­roll­ment from last Septem­ber to next Septem­ber would in­crease by 20 stu­dents if the school were to stay open.

As of last De­cem­ber, there were 78 stu­dents at the school. NLESD’s 10-year pro­jec­tion num­bers from 2010 to 2020 sug­gested the school would have 66 stu­dents by 2020.

Vokey and March con­tend the school should never have been pre­sented for review in the first place. Vokey said Whit­bourne res­i­dents were not given enough time to make their case for why the school should re­main open and feels the board of trus­tees ul­ti­mately failed to lis­ten to the com­mu­nity.

“If you sat down right now and lis­tened to ev­ery pre­sen­ta­tion that was given at con­sul­ta­tion that night up at our school, I can guar­an­tee you would say, ‘This school can’t close. This needs to stay open,’” said Vokey. “But they did not lis­ten to a word we had to say, be­cause they had their minds made up be­fore they even came in here as far as I’m con­cerned.”

Vokey also dis­putes the board’s sug­ges­tion the school isn’t ac­ces­si­ble. She said Wood­land Ele­men­tary in Dildo, where cur­rent Whit­bourne Ele­men­tary stu­dents are sched­uled to go next fall, is not ac­ces­si­ble.

It’s wasn’t that long ago that the gov­ern­ment was try­ing to close out the ma­jor­ity of multi-level buildings in the prov­ince, and now they’re clos­ing down a fully ac­ces­si­ble school with in­creas­ing en­roll­ment, and it’s just ter­ri­ble. Deanne March

“The school they want to send our kids to is a multi-level build­ing,” said Vokey. “Plus, take the build­ing out of the equa­tion al­to­gether, they’re on a hill at a 90-de­gree an­gle to the main road. There’s no play area for our kids.”

“It’s wasn’t that long ago that the gov­ern­ment was try­ing to close out the ma­jor­ity of mul­ti­level buildings in the prov­ince, and now they’re clos­ing down a fully ac­ces­si­ble school with in­creas­ing en­roll­ment, and it’s just ter­ri­ble,” said March.

Smith ques­tions whether there’s a real need for work on the roof at Whit­bourne Ele­men­tary, as sug­gested by the board in its pre­sen­ta­tion. He said an ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion re­quest go­ing back to 2011 on­wards found noth­ing to in­di­cate there were ever con­cerns about the school’s roof.

“There was never prob­lems with the roof,” said Smith. “The only prob­lems with the roof were at Wood­land.”

Since then, par­ents and con­cerned res­i­dents have reached out to both Education Min­is­ter Dale Kirby and Premier Dwight Ball, but those ef­forts have been fruit­less so far. Smith said Kirby sup­ported the com­mu­nity on the school is­sue when he was an op­po­si­tion mem­ber, but has since then turned his back on Whit­bourne.

“We got a re­sponse from the premier (Thurs­day), and he’s re­fus­ing to meet with us,” said Smith.

“All we’re say­ing is, ‘Lis­ten, we want to show you the facts.’ Not the facts that’s been pre­sented to you by (the board and NLESD), be­cause they’re not facts. This was some­thing that was or­ches­trated by the district back in 2011, and the whole idea was they’d let the school drop down. They never tried to do any re­pairs, be­cause if they were say­ing these re­pairs were there, then why weren’t they on their books? Why weren’t they in their ex­pense re­ports? They’re not there.”

ANDREW ROBIN­SON/THE COM­PASS

Sup­port­ers of Whit­bourne Ele­men­tary hold signs out­side the lo­cal Lions Club Thurs­day, June 2. Res­i­dents gath­ered there for a meet­ing about a con­tro­ver­sial in­dus­trial com­post­ing fa­cil­ity.

ANDREW ROBIN­SON/THE COM­PASS

Whit­bourne Ele­men­tary is slat­ted to close for good later this month.

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