Board expected to proceed with school closures

Parents, students, and teachers will find out tonight whether three local schools will remain open.
The Rainy River District School Board is meeting at 7 p.m. at Donald Young School in Emo and topping the agenda is the final school closure vote.
Trustees will decide to either close Alexander MacKenzie, Sixth Street, and Alberton Central schools in favour of an expanded J.W. Walker, or bury the plan that has taken three years to complete.
Board chair Gord McBride said he expects trustees to move ahead with the closures.
“There’s no reason to think that the feelings of the trustees have changed over the last couple of weeks,” he said yesterday.  “I imagine [the parents are] going to be disappointed when it happens but they’ve been getting the message that this is the general direction which the board wants to go,” McBride added.
Education Director Warren Hoshizaki said yesterday that no one had asked to make presentations before the board prior to tonight’s vote.
If passed, the school board will approve the closure of one or more of the schools no earlier than June, 2003 and no later than June, 2004.
“Our door is always open if they choose not to come to the public system,” McBride continued, addressing the fact some parents have said they will send their kids to the separate school board, or home school their children, if Alberton Central is closed.
“We’ve got good teachers at all of our schools and wherever they go, they’ll be well looked after and well received,” he said.
The school closure process began with a pupil accommodation committee back in 1999, which the board said showed a high number of surplus pupil spaces due to declining enrolment.
Due to the new funding formula, which determines how much a school board receives on a per student basis, the Fort Frances Elementary Facilities Review Committee was formed in 2000 to make recommendations on how the board should spend facilities renewal grants.
It suggested the board close three schools.
School closure committees for both Sixth Street and Alexander MacKenzie supported the closure decision back in January, but the committee for Alberton Central was absolutely opposed to the plan, stating they preferred their children attend a smaller rural school.
Parents and community groups have gathered thousands of dollars in volunteer labour and supplies, as well as $10,000 donated from Alberton Township, to cover repair costs and keep the school open.
But the board has said it couldn’t accept the donations since it would interfere with maintenance workers union contracts.
< *c>Textbooks
Meanwhile, trustees tonight also will be hearing about $97,290 the board received from the province for textbooks and resource materials next year.
“Anything in that nature is a real plus for our board,” Hoshizaki said yesterday. “For any board, being able to buy more textbooks [and] more learning materials . . . we can always use them.”
But he added part of that funding is to be used to purchase Grade 12 textbooks that the province requires under the new curriculum.
“Grade 12 textbooks are extremely expensive. They can cost $40 or $50 a piece,” Hoshizaki noted.
Not all of the money will go towards textbooks. It also can be used for classroom materials, such as story books that can go into the classroom to support literacy programs in the junior and intermediate grades.
“We’re also looking at material that has a native cultural component. That might be a place where we can supplement those kinds of initiatives that we have in the system,” Hoshizaki said.
“We’re very pleased, but we’re told it’s one-time funding and that’s a little bit disappointing because there’s a big initiative in our system for those kinds of things,” he remarked.
As well, trustees will hear presentations on Native Awareness Week, which included everything from the grand opening of the “circle room” at Fort Frances High School to native foods and class workshops.
“We’re trying to get a resource list of individuals and of materials within the First Nations communities so that we can work together with the schools so that we can make this more of a regular part of the curriculum rather than just one week or one day,” Hoshizaki said.
“This is a true partnership, and many, many members of the First Nations community are taking part in cultural activities,” he added. “The awareness is really important for our area.”