Fighting the good fight ‘til the end
Thursday evening’s Upper Canada District School Board meeting was an exercise in frustration for Wendy MacPherson.
Efforts by the trustee for Glengarry and Stormont to save three schools and to add French immersion at Maxville Public School were repeatedly stonewalled by her colleagues.
At the meeting in Kemptville, the culmination of six months of deliberations, trustees approved a staff report recommending the closure of eight schools.
But the closures did not come without a fight.
Mrs. MacPherson proposed that RothwellOsnabruck’s Grades 7-12 program be spared. She claimed that the Ingleside school was thriving when it offered French immersion, adding that just eight years ago, the school had to use portables.
She pointed out that the community has rallied behind the school and that corporations in the area had even pledged money to help with its programming. Calling it a “diamond in the rough,” she said Rothwell-Osnabruck could be a K-12 model school of which the board could be proud.
She also supported bids to rescue Oxfordon-Rideau Public School and Benson Public in Edwardsburgh/Cardinal.
All proposals were defeated by 6-5 margins with the exception of the Benson motion, which was defeated 7-4.
In effect, the trustees didn’t waver from the staff report. Later in the evening, Mrs. MacPherson proposed taking North Stormont Public School off the list of recommended Category 3 school closures, meaning that North Stormont would be closed later pend-
ing Ministry of Education approval of an addition at nearby Roxmore Public School. A similar proposal to save Maynard Public School, pending approval of an addition at Wellington E.S., was also defeated.
Although the trustees stuck with the report, only one, Cornwall representative David McDonald, spoke at length about why he opposed the suggested amendments.
Mr. McDonald said RothwellOsnabruck’s enrolment had been dwindling for the past 10 years and that in September, it’s projected to have less than 90 students. “Trustees, are you willing to take money out of the budget for a low-enrolment school?” he asked. “Are you willing to pass a budget that funds an over-staffed school where the community has decided to go somewhere else?”
Mr. McDonald said he doubted that reinstating French immersion would bring the students back and that continuing to support schools like that would
translate into a lack of services at other schools. But trustee John McAllister, who voted to keep Rothwell-Osnabruck open, said he believed French immersion would bring the students back and that he was willing to fund that school.
There was a strong presence of Rothwell-Osnabruck supporters at the meeting, most of whom left shortly after the trustees voted against saving it.
Jennifer MacIsaac, who has one son who graduated from Rothwell-Osnabruck and another in Grade 10, says she is “severely disappointed” with how things turned out. Like Mr. McAllister, she says that the school’s low capture rate is due, in part, because the school no longer offers French immersion.
“You have to look at the competition,” she said, adding that Our Lady of Good Counsel, the Catholic school located right across the street from RothwellOsnabruck, has almost 200 students and offers French immersion programming.
“French-language learning is a necessity,” she said. “We were put at a disadvantage when every school in the area offers French education and you don’t.”
Mrs. MacIsaac also garnered sympathy from Tanya Flaro, who was one of the strongest voices behind the save Char-Lan District High School movement. Ms. Flaro was at the meeting along with a contingent of fellow CharLan supporters – many of whom were wearing the school colours, blue and gold.
“We felt for the RothwellOsnabruck parents and students,” Ms. Flaro said. “We could see how disappointed they were and we knew that could have been us.”
Although the Williamstown school was not on the closure list, Ms. Flaro and her fellow supporters still attended the meeting just in case it got added. “We went because it would only take one trustee to say he or she didn’t agree with keeping Char-Lan open,” she said.
Once the meeting was adjourned, she admits that she breathed a huge sigh of relief. She knows that Char-Lan is safe for at least five years, but knows that another call for closure could come sometime in the future.
Ms. Flaro has plans to paint the boulder at Summerstown and Glen Roads so the message reads, “SAVED CHAR-LAN.”
CHAR- LAN CONTINGENCY: This group of Char-Lan District High School supporters attended the Upper Canada District School Board meeting in Kemptville on Thursday, hoping that none of the trustees would suggest adding the Williamstown school to the list of schools recommended for closure. It wasn’t.