2017-07-26

Residents take aim at school board, province for closing schools

by Michael Lee

  • <p>MICHAEL LEE PHOTO</p><p>Sadie Watson, co-chair of the Greater Petite Area Community Association, shares the ideas her group came up with at a public meeting on rural school closures.</p>

When it comes to school closures, the provincial government and local school board are inconsistent, local residents complained at the first of two public meetings on July 19th.

Now the residents want MODL to speak out as well.

The comments came from the first of two public meetings the municipality held to understand what it can do around rural school closures, just as Pentz and Petite Riviere Elementary Schools get set to close next year.

Local governments do not make decisions on school closures, but residents say the municipality should take on more of an advocacy role.

Some suggested the school board be fired.

"I'm speaking about Petite right now but in a few years it's going to be another school," said Leitha Haysom, a member of the Greater Petite Area Community Association (GPACA), at the first meeting at the LaHave & District Fire Hall.

At least 50 people attended the meeting and Haysom said she was encouraged to hear the public's feedback, adding when it comes to dealing with those in public office there will always be criticism.

“I was really pleased that the municipality is engaging communities on the issue of school closures.”

The GPACA has launched a judicial review against the South Shore Regional School Board to prevent Petite Riviere school, and by extension Pentz school, from closing on July 31, 2018.

The municipality has chosen to act as an intervenor, arguing there could be implications for other schools.

Johanna Hayes, treasurer of GPACA with two children at Petite Riviere, said it was great that the municipality created a forum where the public could speak.

As for how the community felt about the judicial review, she said, “I think everyone is pretty positive.”

Others who attended the meeting felt rural areas were being treated differently compared to urban centres, especially after the minister of education halted a nearly finished school review in the Dartmouth area.

"We could answer a lot of questions if we knew what the school board was thinking," said municipal councillor Martin Bell, who represents the Pentz area, "but they haven't provided any of us with any type of long term plan."

Theresa Griffin, the only school board member who came out to the LaHave meeting, said the power of school boards is greatly constrained by provincial policies and regulations.

She called the notion of firing the board “simplistic” and said change needs to happen from the top and bottom levels of government.

“There are some responsibilities at the provincial level that are being ignored and school boards are being used as a mechanism for deflecting blame for a whole lot of decisions.”

Griffin said schools could offer education and public services to families in rural Nova Scotia.

“But we need a government that has a vision for education in rural Nova Scotia and I don’t see it, and that’s why we’re just moving towards money, savings dollars, with no concern about investments.”

Although Petite Riviere has been the main focus of the judicial review, a successful outcome for the GPACA could be used to stop Pentz school from closing as well.

Pentz parents say they would be happy to have their school kept open, but the review has created a lot of uncertainty.

Laura Brown, a mother from Conquerall Bank with two children going to Pentz, said the municipality, just like the Town of Bridgewater, is only coming on board after the decision to close the schools was made and she questioned whether there was enough time to fix it.

For Brown, what is important is keeping the students together, but she said neither community would be completely satisfied with saving one school or the other. “It will be great if both stay open.”

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