Donations won’t keep Alberton school open

Donations of money and labour from Alberton Township won’t be enough to keep their school open, according to trustees at the Rainy River District School Board’s regular monthly meeting here Tuesday night.
Danielle Robinson made an emotional plea outlying the efforts of the township, which pledged to donate $10,000 if the school remained open for at least three years.
She also listed names of local contractors, electricians, and plumbers who volunteered their labour to make the necessary repairs to keep it open.
“These donations are very generous and should not be dismissed,” Robinson said. “I still believe that if we work together on this, each party can achieve their goal . . . ours to keep Alberton school open, and the board’s to renovate J.W. Walker School.
“Please consider what is best for the children,” she said, crying. “They are counting on us to do right by them and I feel we owe them that much.”
Education Director Warren Hoshizaki said the school board would have problems accepting donations of labour from the public due to a clause in the contract of maintenance workers that prevents it from bringing in outside labour.
Murray Quinn, superintendent of plant and maintenance for the board, agreed accepting free labour isn’t as easy as it sounds.
“It has to do with the union,” he told the board. “They have given special permission in the past for parent groups to install playgrounds but when it comes to work they feel is their work, they’re pretty protective.”
“Everything has to be done according to the building code and the requirements of the Ministry of Education,” board chairman Gord McBride said after the meeting.
“You can’t really have a group meet on a Saturday afternoon and start patching up. It’s got to be done officially and with proper supervision,” he stressed.
Robinson also noted a family had contacted her and was speaking with a law firm in Thunder Bay about filing a lawsuit against the board for declining property value if their school closed.
The suggestion of a lawsuit was greeted with hostility after the meeting.
“It gets my back up,” bristled trustee Ron McAlister. “We’re not in the real estate business. We’re not making this decision based on whose property value is going to go up or down.
“We’re basing this decision on what’s best for the kids.”
Perhaps the most heated point of the evening came when Brian Lemay, who moved to Alberton seven months ago, made a presentation before the board asking what the community could do to keep the school open.
“We’ve asked to make a border change, to bring back grades seven and eight, offered free labour and materials, and we’re not getting feedback except thank you for your feedback, we listened,” he said.
“Is there a figure we have to have—$10,000, $12,000, $15,000, what?”
McBride said the board was listening to all suggestions offered, but just as he had explained in a letter to Lemay earlier, it hadn’t changed the reasons behind the school’s closure.
“There’s two reasons—lack of resources from the Ontario government and declining enrolment,” he said. “The letter said fix those two things and it will be saved.”
Several of the trustees commended the commitment of Alberton residents in trying to save their school, but McBride didn’t think their efforts would change the final vote next month.
“The trustees that I’ve talked to on an informal basis are still leaning toward their earlier feeling of making those changes on the four schools,” he said, referring to the closure of Alberton Central, Alexander MacKenzie and Sixth Street schools and the renovation of J.W. Walker.
But one trustee did admit he wasn’t quite sure how he’d vote next month.
“I can honestly say I haven’t made my decision,” said Martin Darrah, who is the Alberton rep on the board. “I thought I had, but it is definitely on the change.”
The final decision on the fate of the three schools will be made at the school board’s next regular meeting slated Wednesday, May 1 at Donald Young School in Emo.