Alberton parents won’t give up fight

They watched silently as the Rainy River District School Board voted last Wednesday night to close three local schools and expand J.W. Walker.
But parents say the fight to keep Alberton Central open is far from over.
“We may have lost the battle, but the war is still ongoing and we’re not going to give up because we’re fighting for the children,” a defiant Danielle Robinson, chair of Alberton School parent council, said after the vote.
At its regular monthly board meeting held at Donald Young School in Emo, trustees voted unanimously to close Alexander MacKenzie and Sixth Street schools here no earlier than June, 2003 and no later than June, 2004.
After making a speech urging trustees to reconsider their positions, Alberton rep Martin Darrah was the only one to vote against the closure of Alberton Central.
Trustee Frank Sheppard also said he had reservations about the closure after touring the school and thinking that the estimated repair cost was high. But he voted to support the plan anyway, stating he was probably arguing over semantics.
“My view is that the best option is for a new school to be built on the Sixth Street site,” Sheppard said afterwards, but added the school board couldn’t afford that option, either.
Meanwhile, instead of watching it closed and possibly torn down, the school parent council wants to buy Alberton Central and run it as a private institution.
“We are officially requesting to purchase the school from the school board, and in fairness, we should be able to purchase it for the same amount we sold it to them for,” Robinson said in a prepared statement.
She urged parents interested in enrolling their children in a private Alberton Central to contact members of the school parent council.
Board chairman Gord McBride said if parents choose to purchase the building and open a private school in the area, he would support it.
“As long as it’s acceptable to ministry guidelines, I’m very much in favour of it and our administration would do everything possible to assist in it,” he said following last Wednesday’s meeting.
McBride said he felt for the community of Alberton and respected their commitment to keep their school open.
“They may have that option down the road,” trustee Dan Belluz added.
“If the school closes, it goes down the pecking order—it is offered first to the separate school board, government agencies, and municipalities and so on and so forth like our other schools, and then it is offered to the public,” he noted.
Throughout the more than two-year long school closure process, trustees have maintained a lack of funding for school renewal projects from the province is forcing them to close schools.
“In the past, if people wanted to keep the school, they just upped the taxes and they kept the school,” Darrah said after the meeting. “In this case, they were willing to volunteer enough money to do that.”
At the school board’s meeting in April, Robinson said in a presentation that she had received pledges of money, materials, and time from local contractors and other members of the community to help complete renovations on the school.
She also said in her presentation that Alberton council had pledged $10,000 to the school board for renovations if it promised to keep the school open for three years.
Alberton Reeve John Milling confirmed the donation this week. “Council authorized it and as far as I know it stands,” he said Monday.
But Warren Hoshizaki, director of education for the school board, said yesterday that the board has received no written offer of a donation from the township and, as a result, they cannot accept an offer they have not received.
Some of the parents who attended last Wednesday’s meeting said they felt their concerns weren’t listened to by the school board.
“It’s kind of sickening, basically. It’s very disappointing. We had all these nice little committees and nice little input but to me, it’s basically a waste of time,” Andrew Gerber, a father of two students at the school, said afterwards.
A handful of parents nodded in unison to this remark.
McBride said he was sorry people felt they were ignored.
“We did hear what they said and because we didn’t follow what they said, they accused us of not listening to them.
“But we did listen to them and heard their concerns,” he stressed, adding their concerns were listed and extensively reviewed at a previous board meeting in Atikokan.
“I’m sorry the Alberton residents were so upset about this and I really hope that we can begin to work things out for the good of the children,” McBride added.