School closure would ‘cripple’ Alberton: sub-committee

The fate of Alberton Central School isn’t any clearer after a sub-committee pleaded with the Rainy River District School Board on Tuesdsay night not to close their school.
“The board cannot deny that Alberton parents want the school to stay open,” said Andrew Gerber, who along with Gary Durbin and Henry VanAel, spoke on behalf of the school sub-committee during a committee of the whole meeting here.
“It’s the hub of the community, and it bonds the community unlike anything else,” Gerber added. “We may say we’ll save money by closing the school but it will cripple the community otherwise.
“I think it’s high time we receive the attention we deserve,” he stressed. “Having just the three schools [J.W. Walker, Alexander MacKenzie, and Sixth Street] is enough [pupils] for an expanded Walker school.”
The sub-committee was on hand Tuesday night to present the committee of the whole with its research on the pros and cons of closing Alberton Central School.
But not only did it favour keeping the school open because members felt it was a safe, clean, rural environment, but because they contested there’s little evidence as to why Alberton Central was chosen for review in the first place.
“We know what the board’s criteria is when considering a school for closure. We feel we met none of the criteria,” argued Durbin.
“For instance, the need for capital expenditures is required. [But] the parents didn’t feel there was any need for capital expenditures other than some ceiling tiles that need to be replaced.”
Durbin added the list of repairs that was recommended for the school was more of a “wish list”—and didn’t necessarily reflect necessary renovations and thus accurate costs.
He also noted that citing low enrolment as a factor was a moot point because Alberton sees an average of four-five new homes built every year, with a stable—if not slowly growing—population and a steady number of students enrolled at the school each year.
That’s more than could be said for Fort Frances, Durbin remarked.
As well, VanAel noted the sub-committee did a survey last week which saw 100 percent of parents who took part saying they wanted to keep the school open if the only other option was to send their children to J.W. Walker.
And 65 percent said they’d prefer to send their children to a school other than Walker in case the closure goes through.
Some 72 surveys were sent out, with 37 returned between last Tuesday and Friday.
VanAel also suggested some parents already were looking at moving their children to Crossroads in Devlin or a school under the Catholic board—or even doing home schooling—as an alternative to the expanded Walker.
“It’s not a decision of dollars and cents—it’s about the children’s future,” pleaded Gerber as the sub-committee wrapped up its presentation without a recommendation to close the school.
On the other hand, both the sub-committees from Sixth Street (represented by Cam Howard) and Alexander MacKenzie (represented by Terry Ellwood) recommended their respective schools for closure, with reports of more pros than cons as to the effects of relocating students to an expanded Walker.
The advantages of having a more modern facility, with handicap access and increased programming for students, were two common links found by those two sub-committees.
Laura Mills, the board’s chief financial officer, also gave a financial report on the schools, which showed the board would see a total savings of $300,000 if all four schools were consolidated into an expanded J.W. Walker.
“A year ago, when we first started looking at this, a four-school consolidation wasn’t the driving force. But now, with the drop in enrolment, it’s feasible as an option,” she remarked, noting the larger school would see about 311 students in total.
“The birth rate has been declining in the past few years so we’re not anticipating growth there,” added Mills.
With the committee of the whole now having officially received the reports from the sub-committees, it will discuss the recommendations in mid-January and possibly make a recommendation to the board based on that, said Ellwood, who also is the superintendent of education.
The board, in turn, would have to make an “intent to close” motion, at which time trustees would pursue more public input.
After that, the board then could make a motion to “approve to close,” likely by June.