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Board to look into closing 11 schools in Hastings and Prince Edward counties

Members of the HPEDSB

Concerned parents and members of the public attended Monday’s meeting of the student enrolment/school capacity committee of the Hastings Prince Edward District School Board at Prince Edward Collegiate Institute in Picton. The committee voted to recommend wide-ranging studies into local school closures and consolidations. Photo by Nick Ogden, QNet News

By Matthew Murray [1] and Nick Ogden [2]

PICTON – Eleven schools face closure and nine others face consolidation after the Hastings Prince Edward District School Board [3] voted on Monday to look into making changes to schools in Belleville and across the region. 

Two meetings were held by the school board at Prince Edward Collegiate Institute [4] in Picton on Monday. The student enrolment/school capacity committee met first to look over a presentation [5] from board administration on the proposed changes.

In the presentation, director of education Mandy Savery-Whiteway detailed the challenges the board faces that led it to look into possibly closing schools. The board must deal with costs of $250 million over the next decade for renovating and upgrading its aging school buildings, she said.

Enrolment is a major factor; elementary and secondary enrolments are down by 21 per cent and 26 per cent respectively from a decade ago, she said. Decreased enrolment has led to reduced funding from the Ontario Ministry of Education for schools that are not at capacity, Savery-Whiteway said.

“The ministry is decreasing funding” to schools that aren’t at capacity, she said, “and has made it very clear to boards throughout Ontario that they must deal with the situation.”

By consolidating students, the board is looking to provide more students with enhanced programming and more learning experiences, she said. It’s important to ensure that specialized skills courses, preschool child care and sports and arts education are still available to students, Savery-Whiteway added. 

Jennifer Cobb, the trustee for North Prince Edward County, said she is concerned over the possible closing of rural schools and how longer bus rides would affect students’ well-being.

Prince Edward North trustee Jennifer Cobb said she understands the financial state of the board, but that she still has concerns over the possible closures and changes. Photo by Matthew Murray, QNet News.

Prince Edward North trustee Jennifer Cobb said she understands the financial state of the board, but still has concerns over the possible school closures and changes. Photo by Matthew Murray, QNet News

“I don’t always think consolidation makes for a healthy community,” she told her fellow members of the student enrolment/school capacity committee. “Busing kids for an hour a day doesn’t make for a healthy community … Communities are formed by having our schools where we live.”

Cobb also said she felt she had not been given enough time to make an informed decision on the proposed changes. She understands the reality of the financial situation facing the board, she said, but she still had concerns about Monday’s vote.

“In some ways, it still feels like a decision I’m being forced to make.” 

Prior to Monday’s meeting she had received around 50 emails about the proposed changes, and she has been seeing concern and confusion from the community, she said. 

In response, Savery-Whiteway said she understands the concern that trustees have been seeing from the public.

“It’s a very emotional thing for any community when you think about a possible consolidation or school closure,” she said.

But the public will be able to voice their concerns so that plans can be looked over and possibly altered, she added.

The committee voted to send what it calls “accommodation reviews” – studies into the proposed closures and consolidations – to the the full board to vote on at the second meeting of the day. The board then voted to go ahead with the review process, which will take place over the next seven months and includes official meetings for public input before the final vote in June 2017.  

The board will now look at the following options for these regions:

In the Belleville region, the board administration’s preferred course of action is:

Another scenario presented was:

Both options would require changes to the existing bus routes for the board, the proposal states. 

In the Centre Hastings [6] region:

In the Prince Edward County region:

In both the Centre Hastings and Prince Edward County regions, minor changes to the bus routes would be needed, the document states.