Long range outlook for school board released

Document will guide future closures and boundary changes

A much-anticipated document that will guide the South Shore Regional School Board (SSRSB) through future school closures and boundary reviews has been released.

The document, released on April 22, is a new requirement in Nova Scotia’s Education Act, aimed at providing information to the public about schools and the delivery of education programs and services. It’s also the first stage of the province’s new school review policy.

“I do want to point out to the board tonight that should they receive the document they have made no decisions other than to receive the outlook,” said Geoff Cainen, superintendent of schools for the SSRSB. “I think that’s a really important first piece in receiving it. What you then do is you allow staff to go on and continue some work, and that work would be to prepare to come back at a later date, probably September, with a list of ideas or options that the board could consider for that coming year.”

Though the document provides a lot of information about the board’s schools and its delivery of education programs and services, the recommended future considerations are the highlight of its 115 pages.

The first recommendation is for a review of school catchment areas. The document notes that catchment areas have remained the same, with few exceptions, as they were prior to 1982, when the province moved responsibility for education from municipal entities to a single board. The main goal of examining these boundaries would be to create shorter travel times to schools, which would benefit students and the board.

“There is the need to develop a school catchment policy, and staff recognizes that must come forward before we do any of the other recommended responses,” said Cheryl Fougere, Vice Chair of SSRSB and representative for District 3, which includes the Town of Bridgewater family of schools.

It is important to note a school review recommended for a family of schools does not necessarily mean a closure. A school review can also include a review of a catchment area, cross-boundary registrations, grade configuration, or a P3 school renewal option. It could also mean a recommendation for a new, replacement or refurbished school, if a closure was in fact decided upon.

The board has developed a timeline for these considerations.

The document calls for school reviews of the Bridgewater family of schools, the Park View family of schools as well and Big Tancook School. The current utilization of Big Tancook is eight per cent, with only four students currently enrolled. This number is projected to decrease to zero in 2016-17, so closing this facility will be considered soon.

The report says the closure of the Pentz and Petite Riviere schools could have an impact on enrolment at Hebbville Academy. Without the influx of students from Pentz and Petite Riviere, the report predicts Hebbville’s enrolment will drop from 71 to 59 per cent in the next 10 years. But the board has decisions to make about several other schools.

Bayview’s lease expires October 31, 2020, but its enrolment is projected to remain stable over the next decade. Bluenose Academy is said to cost substantially more than other board schools due to charges of $96,000 annually from the Town of Lunenburg. Its utilization is expected to decrease from 86 to 77 per cent in the next ten years. Park View is currently undergoing a $13 million renovation project, but over the next 10 years its utilization is expected to decrease from 82 to 56 per cent.

Decreasing enrollment at Bridgewater Junior/Senior High School will continue to reduce the course selections offered to students.

The document recommends a review two years from now of the New Germany family of schools and Aspotogan Elementary School. The lease for this school expires November 30, 2020, but a notice of intent for future use must be given to the owner by November 30, 2016. Its utilization of 57 per cent is expected to remain stable. The document notes the New Germany schools all have underutilized space and both facilities located in New Germany have deferred maintenance that needs to be addressed.

The report calls for a review in three years of the North Queens family of schools and New Ross Consolidated School. New Ross has a building utilization of 32 per cent, projected to decrease to 18 per cent in 10 years time, but the travel times these students would face if transported to another school would be more than an hour. However, the document also notes the cost to maintain this 1960’s-era school is high. North Queens Community School’s status has not changed, and its student enrolment is expected to continue to decrease.

The document recommends a review in 10 years of the Liverpool family of schools, Chester Area Middle School and Chester District Elementary School.

Staff and the board will have discussions in the near future with the school advisory councils and municipal councils regarding the outlook.

“Let me point out that for each of these recommended responses that you should not read into it that this is what’s going to happen,” said Elmer Garber, chair of SSRSB. “Because the board receives the report doesn’t mean that it is going to happen, that there is going to be a review of Bridgewater family of schools within one year, unless the staff brings that forward and a motion is passed to do just that at a future meeting, which I assume would take place after the communication plan with the communities.”

As originally published in LighthouseNOW Progress Bulletin

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