WILLIAMSTOWN, Ontario – The community around Char-Lan District High School gathered in the school’s cafeteria Thursday night to discuss their options in light of the recent Upper Canada District School Board (UCDSB) staff report that calls for the school to close by July 2017.
Leading the meeting was Sally Phypers, the Chair of the Williamstown Public School Parent’s Council.
“We have to focus on how we can save the school,” she said at the opening of the meeting. “We need to think of dollars and students in seats.”
MPP Jim McDonell addressed the assembly and gave his advice as the Provincial representative for the area.
“The key is to not let them make the decision easy,” he said. “Come out in numbers. Inundate them to show you’re upset.”
Mayor of South Glengarry Ian McLeod said that he felt the Province was dismantling rural communities and that the school board was forgetting the township’s financial contribution.
“The modus operandi of our provincial government is to erode our rural communities until they don’t exist and right now they are doing a good job of that,” McLeod said to a round of applause from the room. “In South Glengarry we collect $2 million for schools. We have to make the board understand how important our money is to them. I think they’ve forgotten that.”
Stephanie Jaworski gave the assembled crowd a breakdown of the numbers before they broke off into smaller focus groups.
She explained that across the Upper Canada Disctrict School Board that the board was below capacity by one-third.
Char-Lan however, was 78 percent full and that Williamstown Public School was at 162 percent capacity.
SJ McLeod however, sits at 10 percent capacity. What this means is that the Char-Lan Feeder Group is overall at roughly 80 percent capacity.
She explained that according to the report, at least in the short term, that the closing of Char-Lan, as well as the closing of other schools across the board, would lead to a $2 million increase to the board’s budget.
The cost of the Board’s plan rises to $4 million when the expense of transporting students to their new schools is taken into account.
The students going to Char-Lan would start going to St. Lawrence Secondary School in Septemer 2017 under this plan. That would require an additional 12 buses as well as vans for the more remote students.
Ultimately, explained Jaworski, the UCDSB plan, while more expensive, would allow the board to build new schools. Under Ministry of Education rules right now, the UCDSB would be less likely to receive funding to build a new school while they still have these older schools with empty spaces in their system.
After the presentations, the assembled crowd broke off into work groups. Each person in each work group was given the chance to air their concerns and give their opinion on what should be done next.
All of the conclusions from each work will be summarized at a follow-up meeting next week.
This summarization will help form the group’s presentation to the Accommodation Review Committee in November.
The school board is scheduled to make their final decision on the closure of schools on March 23.
In all, the UCDSB plan calls for the closure of 12 schools by the end of June 2017 with more possibly closing based on Capital Funding.