2017-05-17

NDP promise moratorium on school closures

by Brittany Wentzell

  • <p>BRITTANY WENTZELL PHOTO</p><p>Gary Burrill, leader of the Nova Scotia New Democratic Party, announced on May 11 that the party would put a moratorium on school closures until school closure guidelines can be reviewed, should they be voted in on May 30.</p>
  • <p>BRITTANY WENTZELL PHOTO</p><p>Parents from Petite Riviere and Pentz elementary schools crowded into the bookstore at the Lahave Bakery to hear Burrill&#8217;s announcement on May 11.</p>

Gary Burrill says his party will establish a moratorium on school closures if they are voted in on May 30.

Burrill made the announcement at the Lahave Bakery on May 11 to a small crowd, which included several parents concerned about the closure of Petite Riviere and Pentz elementary schools. He was joined by NDP candidates Lisa Norman, Lunenburg West, and Marc Breaugh, Lunenburg.

"At the heart of strong, vibrant rural communities are strong vibrant rural schools," said Burrill.

"This moratorium will mean that the schools in Petite Riviere and Pentz will not be closed."

The South Shore Regional School Board is already embroiled in a court battle with the Greater Petite Area Community Association, the second group to take the school board to court over a school review in recent months. A judicial review was filed in Halifax Supreme Court on April 26 by the association arguing the school board was wrong in determining it could not reverse its 2013 decision to close the schools.

The school board was previously taken to court last year after the Town of Bridgewater sought to prevent the transfer of Grade 10-12 students from Bridgewater Jr./Sr. High School to Park View Education Centre. The Nova Scotia Supreme Court ruled in favour of the school board.

When asked what the NDP would do should the Supreme Court rule in favour of the school board a second time, Burrill didn't have a solid answer.

"We need to put a pause, a stop to the present system and those decisions that are in the process of being made, they will also be [paused] until new guidelines are brought into place," he told LighthouseNOW after the announcement.

Burrill calls the school closure process "flawed" and says it has been for years.

"The injustices we've seen, for example in River John, if the [current] guidelines allowed for that, then there's something wrong with the guidelines," he said.

Burrill referred to the closure of schools under the Chignecto Central Regional School Board and their bid to create hub model schools, which were turned down by the province.

The party has also committed to developing new hub school guidelines and partnering with communities to develop their hub school proposals. The plan would also see 50 per cent of the funding required to initiate a pilot project coming from the provincial government.

"The problem has been, under the present guidelines, all the onus is on the local community to prove they have the means to create a hub school themselves," he said, adding that the neither province nor school boards aid in the process. "The government has to share this responsibility."

Burrill says the province has turned down every proposal for hub model schools over the past three and a half years but that the model can work for rural communities, which have been dealing with declining enrollment.

"It's very common in rural areas that schools we're presently in were built during the height of the baby boom," he said. "You end up in a situation where the building is being used about a third, the board then faces the problem of unused capacity... but often times the school remains viable, it has a viable number of students."

Schools like Petite Riviere and Pentz are ingrained in their communities, says Burrill. He added that the student-teacher ratios are something many parents want for their children.

Burrill says that balancing the budget has been a higher priority for the McNeil government than proper education and that the NDP are committed to implementing class size caps as well as investments required to hire teachers for that purpose.

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