2016-09-28

No show of support from Bridgewater rep on school review

by Michael Lee

  • <p>MICHAEL LEE PHOTO</p><p>Bridgewater area representative Cheryl Fougere said not enough time was spent reviewing the MacNeil report, but she hasn&#8217;t said whether she will support a motion to move Grade 10-12 students from Bridgewater Junior-Senior High School to Park View Education Centre.</p>
  • <p>MICHAEL LEE PHOTO</p><p>From left, superintendent Scott Milner and South Shore Regional School Board chair Jennifer Naugler.</p>

The school board's Bridgewater representative won't say if she'll support a motion to move Bridgewater Junior-Senior High School (BHS) students to Park View Education Centre (PVEC).

Cheryl Fougere told LighthouseNOW new information has been received and "to publicly say how I would vote, I'm not ready to share at this time."

But at a special South Shore Regional School Board (SSRSB) meeting on September 21 at Hebbville Academy, to an audience of roughly 30 people, she said not enough time has been spent reviewing the external consultant's report, while the Pentz and Petite Riviere situations are still unknown.

"If we are missing any pieces, we can't make the best decision possible," she said.

Fougere, who is running for a seat on Bridgewater town council, and other members have questioned the SSRSB's decision to proceed with its review of the Bridgewater and Park View families of schools.

Both Fougere and African Nova Scotian representative Vernon Simms previously voted against setting those dates.

Board chair Jennifer Naugler said the board elected to continue the review, and legal counsel Michael Murphy said he did not believe another pause could be initiated.

The board is faced with a decision of whether to move Grade 10-12 students from BHS to PVEC.

Tina Munro, the director of human resources, said combining the student populations will allow for more and better course selection, while Director of Programs and Student Services Jeff DeWolfe said programming would "absolutely" be strengthened, although he did acknowledge the stress and anxiety felt by families this summer over the review.

Board member for the Chester area Theresa Griffin, received a round of applause from the public after calling for equity and the need to think bigger. She said the reality is that programming is better by combining the schools, but was opposed to the idea of centralizing.

School board cost savings

Staff savings associated with moving students to one school are slightly less than previously estimated-$323,000 compared to $455,000-due to declining enrollment in 2017 and fewer staff positions to begin with.

After factoring in additional transportation, loss of small high school funding and an additional O2 section, the estimated savings are $107,000.

But Director of Finance Wade Tattrie said the board will gain $202,700 by the second year for the additional 187 students eligible for busing, bringing the estimated savings to more than $309,000.

Simms countered saying he has heard no benefits to keeping BHS students where they are. The estimated savings are a fraction of the board's $76.1 million budget, and Simms raised the matter of Pentz and Petite, which are set to close in 2018, arguing that the board has not seen the financial impact it thought it would see for keeping those schools open the past few years.

Tattrie strongly disagreed with Simms and reminded the board of the significant budget cuts made over the past three years and the $1.7 million in transition funding lost over the next two years, which will mean fewer teachers in the classrooms.

"I have absolutely no idea where this board is going to find that money," he said.

Naugler told LighthouseNOW it will be up to individual board members to decide how much weight to put on finances.

"Certainly when we make these decisions you want to be making them with what's best for the students, but behind that there is a financial piece. That is something that needs to be considered."

A decision will be made on September 28. The board can also elect to review catchment areas and grade configurations apart from moving the students.

Using data from February 2016, preliminary projections show utilization at most elementary schools either remaining the same or dropping slightly if a move occurs, with the exception of Newcombville and Pentz, which are expected to see double digit losses.

Utilization at Bridgewater Elementary and BHS would vary depending on how the grades are configured.

Finding a use for BHS would be done in conjunction with a catchment review, but plans have not been made yet for that space.

Park View renovations

As the lengthy review continues, major renovations to PVEC are on target to be completed by September 2017. The $12.9 million project, which will extend the life of the building by 15-20 years, includes multiple upgrades to the heating system, water lines, electrical and networking cables.

A new art room, learning commons and food lab have been installed, along with LED lights throughout the school.

Work on the gym, change rooms, cafeteria, library and kitchen is on target for July 2017. Remaining site work, such as paving and curbing, will be finished by next June or July.

The west wing has been finished and one floor in the north wing is done. The final floor will be finished by January.

If work takes longer than expected, the goal is to at least have all of the educational spaces finished by the time school starts next year.

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