Pictou Advocate: Hopes fading to keep River John school open

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Stakeholders are searching for what few options remain to save River John Consolidated School from closure.

The Chignecto-Central Regional School has worked quickly to wind down the school after it voted at its monthly meeting last Wednesday in Truro to close it, as well as two other schools after classes end for the school year.

It follows votes by a considerable margin to close schools in Maitland and Wentworth, while a similar motion to reconsider closing River John Consolidated was defeated despite a tie vote. According to the Education Act, a tie vote loses a motion.

By deciding to close the schools, the board also rejected the Hub community model applications.

The Support Our School group held out hope that Education Minister Karen Casey might quickly discuss the River John closure with Premier Stephen McNeil and his Liberal caucus.

“It’s not over yet,” SOS member Sheree Fitch said at the time. “I’m so thankful that half the board was with us. I have so much admiration for those members who weren’t afraid to take a risk.”

Warden Ronald Baillie, who represents District 4 where the school is located, and Robert Parker, the past school board chairman who now represents District 5 on Pictou County Municipal Council, thought the tie vote would give the authorities pause.

But McNeil made it clear in an interview last week that his government won’t try to reverse the board’s decision. He noted several schools in his own constituency that have closed in recent years.

“Ultimately it is the school board that decides,” he said. “We respect the decision of the board. We are faced with these decisions across the province.”

Emotions swung to extremes of hope and despair for stakeholders who gathered in the Truro Elementary School gym in support of all three schools.

The board rolled the Hub proposals, and the decisions on whether or not to close the schools, into three separate notices of motions of reconsideration board member Vivian Farrell from Pictou had moved at the June board meeting in 2014.

The original decision to close the three schools was made during a school review process beginning in 2012. The board voted in 2013 to close the three schools in June 2015.

Hub proposals were constructed then and later submitted to the board in March 31.

Upon advice by school board solicitor Bruce MacIntosh, Farrell was free to speak to each motion and presented cases supporting the Hub models proposed for the schools before each motion for reconsideration was voted on. There was no other debate.

Regarding the Hub proposal for River John, Farrell strenuously sided with supporting its proposal and keeping the school open.

She said the school’s projections show its enrolment would rise to 80 in the next school year and continue to reverse years of declining enrolment. She said the Hub model was a worthy one that reflected great vision.

“The community has done a marvellous job creating a Hub model that is one of the most creative I have ever seen,” she said, while calling it a model that would benefit other schools and communities.

With one of the school board’s elected members missing, and the resulting 8-8 tie from the vote, the motion to keep the school open was defeated.

The decision to close all three schools had triggered more discussion about 2015-16 budget to re-invest the funds that will be recovered with the closures. A final budget is expected to be delivered before the end of June, with meetings scheduled today and on June 24.

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