Catholic board to spend funding on urgent repairs

At its regular monthly meeting here Saturday, the Northwest Catholic District School Board passed a motion to use new funding for building improvements on urgent and high-need projects that have been approved by the Ministry of Education.
Among the potential projects are the replacement of secondary switchgear at both St. Michael’s and St. Francis, the replacement of an atmospheric boiler at St. Francis, and the replacement of the plumbing piping systems at St. Michael’s.
Eligible projects were identified during a facility survey conducted by ministry reps in 2002-03.
The province announced its Good Places to Learn initiative in February, providing millions of dollars to schools to improve the environments in which students learn.
The local Catholic board received $237,938 in the first phase of the funding. The estimated total of its urgent and high-needs projects is $341,220.
“The method of funding is unusual in that the board will be required to obtain long-term financing and the province will fund repayments over 25 years,” Chris Howarth, the board’s superintendent of business, noted in his report to trustees.
As such, he said they will choose only projects that will allow them to work within the phase one allocation.
The ministry is encouraging boards to spend the funding over the summer of 2005 while schools are mostly empty.
“In situations where it makes sense to undertake projects in the summer, we plan to proceed,” Howarth’s report read. “And in other cases, we may delay projects to the winter to take advantage of more favourable contract pricing.”
“It does place some stress on the board’s staff,” Howarth told trustees Saturday, noting they were not expecting to take on so many of these projects all at once.
“We’re proposing to defer the electrical and plumbing until the winter of 05/06,” he said.
The ministry has stipulated the funding must be used as soon as possible.
“We have to make a commitment to spend this money if we want to get the funding,” Howarth explained.
Dryden trustee John Borst asked if the winter repairs would cause any disturbance to students since classes would have resumed by then.
“We’ll try to minimize that,” Howarth replied, noting work could be done over weekends and during the Christmas and March breaks.
The board will choose which projects to proceed with in the coming weeks.
Crossing guards
Also at Saturday’s meeting, the board agreed to share information needed to determine locations for crossing guards with the Town of Fort Frances, but said it would not be able to help fund the positions.
Back in January, the board received a letter from the town, signed by Coun. Rick Wiedenhoeft, asking for its participation in expanding the crossing guard program in Fort Frances.
“At the present time, the municipality provides only one crossing guard at the intersection of Scott Street and Crowe Avenue,” the letter read. “It is the intention of council, after a thorough investigation, to provide crossing guards, within a limited scope, wherever they are necessary.”
Coun. Wiedenhoeft asked the board to participate in the investigation, providing information on the catchment area of the board’s two Fort Frances schools, student flow patterns to and from school, and the numbers and ages of children who walk to school.
He also asked for an idea of what parents’ wanted in terms of crossing guards.
“To say that an extension of this service will mean significant tax dollars is an understatement,” Coun. Wiedenhoeft wrote. “It is my hope, therefore, that both boards of education might reconsider their position and make a commitment towards a partnership for this essential service.”
Coun. Wiedenhoeft noted town council is aware it is the up to municipalities to provide school crossing guards if it chooses to.
In a memo to trustees, Howarth said the board has surveyed the administration at St. Michael’s and St. Francis to get their thoughts on crossing guard locations.
“We have not surveyed parents to determine their perception at this time as we do not want to build false expectations,” he noted in the memo.
The board also has contacted other boards in Northwestern Ontario to see if they have received similar requests.
Howarth noted one board in Thunder Bay is sharing student location information with the city, but has not been asked to provide any financial assistance.
“No other boards have been faced with this issue,” he said.
The Rainy River District School Board received the same letter from town council and also declined to contribute funding for crossing guards, though it did agree to share some information.
“I will meet with the councillor and discuss what type of information they require and give them whatever information we can,” Howarth told the board Saturday. “Something the board cannot commit to is paying for crossing guards.”
“Crossing guards are the responsibility of the municipality and I would not recommend sharing in the cost of a municipal responsibility,” he had noted in the memo.
The board supported Howarth’s plan of action.
In other news, the Catholic board has received $45,000 from the ministry’s Managing Information for Student Achievement (MISA) initiative. Now the board must develop a three-year plan to gather and manage student achievement data.
But in order to gather the information required for MISA, the board needs a Student Information System (SIS). The local Catholic board currently is one of only two in the province without a SIS.
As such, trustees approved a motion Saturday to transfer $75,000 from the reserve for working funds to set up a SIS as required by the ministry.
Howarth noted this would be one-time spending, with some ongoing costs for maintenance of the system.
Board chair Gerry Rousseau noted the system would be useful in tracking students’ EQAO results. “We could use it for screening and monitoring, and identify where the needs are,” he said.