Pentz and Petite schools remain in limbo

Board seeks legal opinion on closure

Though Pentz and Petite Riviere elementary schools still face imminent closure, a slightly new offer has been presented.

The South Shore Regional School Board (SSRSB), along with its superintendent and legal counsel visited the two schools and their school advisory committees (SACs) on March 31 to share a new sense of direction for the future. Their purpose was to seek feedback.

“We think we should apply one more time for a new school for Pentz and Petite, but in order to make it perhaps a little more palatable to the province we threw in what we thought was an attempt to address the rural community revitalization concerns,” said Elmer Garber, the chair of SSRSB, regarding a community school concept the board was proposing.

The two schools have been slated for permanent closure since the SSRSB made this motion in March 2013. Since then, the Board has taken much heat due to the motion’s wording. A clarification following the agreed-upon permanent closures reads: “Pentz Elementary School and Petite Riviere Elementary School would remain open until a new school has been completed.” This additional statement about remaining open until a replacement facility for the two schools is built has caused much confusion and a variety of interpretations regarding the motion in the community.

The board recently sought legal advice on this matter.

“Some people were saying that motion could be reversed and we wanted clarity in relation to that,” said Mr. Garber, who’s since had it confirmed the decision cannot be revoked.

The board had five years since making its initial decision to make arrangements for students at the slated schools. It has made two requests of the province for a new facility in the area of $10 million. Both requests were denied. It hopes the most recent proposal, if the communities in question agree to participate, is more enticing.

“We just were presented the offer on Tuesday, so we haven’t had time to digest it and understand what it means for our school,” said Leif Helmer of the Petite Riviere SAC. “We need to consider really carefully if it’s viable before we invest many months or years into their proposal.”

Mr. Helmer and Dee Conrad, past chair of the SAC for Petite Riviere, wrote a letter to Mr. Garber, the chair of the SSRSB, which was presented at its March 25 meeting.

Their requests include an opportunity to present advice to the board in an in-camera session; a full copy of the legal opinion regarding their future, including correspondence with SSRSB staff requesting the opinion; an explanation of how the commitment made by Mr. Cainen to include Petite and Pentz in the consultant’s terms of reference for “building condition assessment reports,” has been followed through and met; and an explanation of how Petite will be included in the long-range outlook document to be released later this month.

The authors did not receive a response to their request for an in-camera session. The legal opinion was delivered verbally at both school meetings. Petite and Pentz, while included in the long-range outlook, which will be released midway through April, did not include a completed building condition assessment report.

“They’re included in terms of population trends, capacity, utilization rates,” said Mr. Garber. “They’re not included in terms of building condition, because that was determined two years ago and the schools are to close, so we can’t spend an extra $15,000 to include them in the plan.” The board will continue maintenance as long as children attend the two facilities. The children will have to go somewhere else if a new school isn’t constructed.

“It has been known all along that’s our worst-case scenario, because it means busing hundreds of kids many, many hours away from and out of their home communities to a school that isn’t large enough to accommodate them, has no real educational benefit, and all they do is lose hours of their life,” said Mr. Helmer. “That’s not a prospect that I’m interested in, nor is anybody else.”

As originally published in LighthouseNOW Progress Bulletin

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