Northwest Catholic District School Board trustees last night voted unanimously to postpone indefinitely the decision to close Our Lady of the Way School in Stratton.
In addition, the board agreed to direct administration to provide updates relative to enrolment at the school three times each year, as well as present an updated Administration Reassessment Report of the Accommodation Report in February, 2017.
“In essence, what we are doing is moving [this decision] to pending,” explained Director of Education Rick Boisvert.
“At any time during the next three years, with the majority approval from the board, the report can be moved from the pending list for decision for that time,” he noted.
Boisvert indicated, for example, that if enrolment at the school dropped to just four students in two years’ time, and the board felt it just didn’t make sense to keep it operating, they are able to address the issue before February, 2017.
“It can come off the pending and be dealt with formally again,” he clarified, citing the accommodation review process recently completed still would stand.
“By postponing indefinitely this decision, we would not have to re-engage an ARC process,” he stressed.
The accommodation review process for the school was initiated in January, 2013 due to declining enrolment, which saw the expenditures of operating the school exceeding revenues by $200,000.
Still, the Accommodation Review Committee recommended this past January the board keep Our Lady of the Way School open as a JK-8 school, in addition to suggesting the board commit to a minimum of two classrooms there.
An analysis by board administration last month suggested it’s “too early to make a decision to close Our Lady of the Way School.”
It also recommended the motion that was voted on last night, which also included that the board ask administration to consider implementing the following accommodation review recommendations:
•that the Northwest Catholic District School Board commits to a minimum of two classrooms at Our Lady of the Way School;
•that a school action plan to be developed for implementation in 2013-14 to support a strong parish, community, and school relationship that focuses on strengthening the relationship with existing families while attracting new students and families; and
•that the board commit to review the accommodation review process to identify the strengths and concerns of the existing one.
These three recommendations are operational and will be the decision of administration.
“I appreciate the work that the ARC committee did,” said Fort Frances trustee Harold Huntley, speaking in favour of the recommendation.
“And I appreciate the work administration has done to come up with a recommendation that I think will satisfy the needs to the board and community.”
“I would like to express my thanks to the chair Anthony Leek and the ARC committee, and certainly our administration,” echoed trustee Kathy Bryck, via teleconference from Dryden.
“I read and re-read every document, the minutes, the letters, and the data—it’s obvious it’s been a very painstaking process for a lot of people.
“There’s been a lot of work and a lot of emotion involved, as well,” Bryck added.
“When I first started looking at this, looking at the enrolment decline, whether that is an anomaly or not, the cost of operating the school, the value to the students, there was a lot of excellent information.”
She also feels the ARC process is valid and very fair.
“I’ve been very impressed to see how that process has evolved,” Bryck remarked.
“I think when we consider the potential for a cost-efficient school and enrolment growth, that will be interesting to see.
“That’s being very positive and the school action plan to me is very positive, working with the parish and the school, the parents, as well as the board.
“And most importantly the value to students,” Bryck stressed. “We’re being encouraged to consider that.
“So I do support this now based on administration’s final points to us as to where they see this going.”
The only trustee not in attendance last night to vote on the motion was Robert van Oort (Dryden). Even vice-chair Cathy Bowen (Sioux Lookout), who currently is in Africa, got up at 3 a.m. to call in to the meeting to have her vote recorded.