Parents read through a packet including submissions that were sent to the school board about proposed school boundaries. TINA COMEAU PHOTO
By Tina Comeau
If the Dec. 12 special meeting of the Tri-County Regional School Board had been a card game, few board members were willing to give up their hand, waiting instead for a Jan. 7 meeting where all cards will be laid on the table.
At least one board member tipped her hand, though, as to what she feels about the whole situation involving proposed school boundaries and a decision to close Arcadia Consolidated School. Board member Dolores Atwood said the board is in a mess. She asked her fellow board members, as they ponder what decisions they’ll make on Jan. 7, to trace the situation back to the root of the problem.
“The people are telling us we are not on the right track,” she said. “This is what the majority of people have told us.”
There was very little discussion by board members who had previously been given a package that included a summary of the feedback from an October public consultation meeting, along with copies of the written submissions that were submitted to the board about proposed school boundaries. The packages were couriered to board members late last week. In fact there was so little discussion that initially the meeting looked as if it would be adjourning after just five minutes when none of the board members chose to ask questions or make comments about the information they had received.
In the end, the meeting lasted roughly 15 minutes. (You can see a video here of superintendent Lisa Doucet explaining the purpose of the Dec. 12 special meeting.)
It was a little difficult to understand the purpose of the special board meeting since board members had received the consultation information days prior to the meeting. And there was no report from administrative staff containing recommendations from board staff based on all of the public input that had been received, which is something that had been indicated back in October as being part of the review process after the proposed boundaries had gone out for input. There was only a section on a summary of the feedback that referred to 'options for consideration' provided at the meeting, which appeared to be options generated by the public, not by staff.
Superintendent Lisa Doucet told the Vanguard after the meeting that it should have been clarified on the board's timeline that the recommendations wouldn't be from staff following the consultation.
"This should have been clarified in the timelines that the recommendations/options senior staff would bring forward would be from the public consultation meeting and the written submissions from the public," she said. "The goal was to bring all of the feedback from the public to the board members so they can discuss the points, options for consideration, and any other feedback. They would then make decisions regarding any possible changes to the proposed catchment areas and direct staff as necessary."
Board members must decide whether to accept, adjust or reject proposed school boundaries that have been drawn up to address where students will attend class during their elementary, junior and senior high school years after Arcadia Consolidated School is closed.
Based on a school board decision the elementary school, attended by roughly 190 students, is slated to close at the end of this school year, although board member Ron Hines has indicated he will bring forward a motion at the Jan. 7 meeting asking the board to delay the closure of the school.
During the October public consultation session, concern regarding busing of students was the most common theme, followed by concern over dividing up Arcadia School students among several different elementary schools, and the impact on students and families – financially, emotionally and/or socially – of moving students to schools further from their homes and/or taking them out of schools that they would have traditionally attended.
At the Dec. 12 meeting Doucet told board members that options for consideration put to the board from the public feedback included:
• That all Arcadia students move to Plymouth School in September until a new or retrofitted school is built, with students moving to junior or senior high school grandfathered into schools that are in the existing Arcadia School catchment area;
• That students identified as being closer to South Centennial attend South Centennial School as opposed to Central School when Arcadia School closes;
• That students living in the Robinson Road area (those from the Acadia Band) attend Central or Meadowfields schools.
• To not close Arcadia School in 2014.
Aside from Atwood, the only other board member to speak at the special board meeting was Joan Brewer. While the superintendent said it was positive that so many people had provided feedback, Brewer said the input is not what she was hoping for.
“The unfortunate thing is that so much of the feedback did not centre around our question. Our question being catchment areas. There was some feedback there, but there was a lot of feedback and reversing the decision of Arcadia School,” she said. “It’s frustrating because we didn’t get as much feedback as I expected with regards to what catchment area do you want your children to be falling under. And so it’s hard to make a decision based on what I’ve been reading.”
To Brewer’s comment parent John Levac said from the audience that if board members listen to the parents they represent, the decision shouldn’t be a difficult one to make at all.