Emotions ran high as the Strait Regional School Board (SRSB) set the wheels in motion to formally review its three schools serving Port Hawkesbury and Mulgrave.
As part of the first phase of the SRSB’s new Long-Range Outlook process, board members formally voted to review the Strait Area Education and Recreation Centre (SAERC) feeder system, which includes Port Hawkesbury’s two SRSB buildings – SAERC and Tamarac Education Centre (TEC) – as well as Mulgrave Memorial Education Centre (MMEC), which serves grades Primary to 8 students in Mulgrave and the surrounding areas.
Board members subsequently voted to establish a School Options Committee (SOC) for the SAERC feeder system, which will present a recommendation on the future of the three schools to the board for a formal decision before the end of the 2015-16 academic year.
The board’s East Guysborough representative, Rosalee Parker, did not support either of these motions, which passed by counts of 8-3 and 9-2, respectively. In speaking to the October 7 board meeting, which was attended by several parents, community members and town councillors from Mulgrave, Parker suggested that impending economic developments could reverse a population decline that has seen the MMEC student body shrink to 62 students.
“People in our four counties need a break from what could be another school closure – this board has done more of its share of closures than any other board in the province of Nova Scotia,” Parker declared, drawing applause from those in attendance.
Near the end of the meeting, MMEC parent Donna Palmer-Meagher acknowledged that “the writing is on the wall” for MMEC given its low numbers in comparison to the hundreds that attend SAERC and TEC, but added that the news is difficult to absorb in the wake of Mulgrave Town Council’s unanimous vote to apply to the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board (UARB) to end the town’s life as a separate municipal unit.
“We’ve all been told to think with our heads, not our hearts, but it’s a lot for our community to take on in the span of a matter of days,” Palmer-Meagher remarked.
She also insisted that the trip currently taken to Port Hawkesbury by Mulgrave-area students attending SAERC is not suitable for younger children, given the lack of seat belts in SRSB buses and the Canso Causeway crossing.
In response, the board’s director of operations, Terry Doyle, noted that the SRSB’s vehicles are provided by the provincial government and undergo the same inspections as those of any other school board in Canada. Doyle added that the SRSB has several bus routes “much longer” than the Mulgrave-to-Port Hawkesbury run, and defended the board’s safety record.
“This board has not had a significant injury on a school bus since the creation of this board – that’s not to say that it can’t happen, but it hasn’t happened previously,” Doyle told the board meeting. “For the smallest of our students, those students under 40 pounds, the bus is not adequately designed to protect them. But we have integrated booster seats for those students.”