Local schools on the chopping block?

BARRY’S BAY – The first of four public meetings in regards to potential Catholic school closures within the area took place at St. John Bosco’s Catholic School this past Wednesday. 
On October 16, more than 50 concerned citizens and parents made an appearance at the local Barry’s Bay Catholic School. 
As per the Ministry of Education, it’s mandatory officials begin to deal with concerns of declining enrolment, rising costs due to maintenance in schools and renewal costs. They must also tackle issues surrounding the ability to provide sustainable programming, it was explained at the recent gathering. 
As a result, a committee known as the Accommodation Review Committee (ARC) has been formed.   
ARC is comprised of community stakeholders, including a parent from each of the schools under review, a representative from the community and a representative for teachers and non-teaching staff, principals and school board administration. 
The committee will help collect and discuss options, thoughts and ideas, as well as develop options to improve educational opportunities and operating efficiencies to best meet the needs of elementary students, locally. 
However, committee members will not have the final say. 
“The Board of Trustees will make the final decisions,” Chairman and Superintendent of Education Peter Adam said.  
The ARC, on the other hand, is responsible, for bringing forth and making recommendations which may include school closures, renovations, additions, or some type of preferred accommodation solutions for students, in support of the recently launched ministry guidelines, Adam went on to explain. 
It’s to maximize effectiveness and efficiency throughout the Renfrew County Catholic School Board (RCCDSB), the chairman/super added. 
The ARC is scheduled to present its findings and a report to the Director of Education on February 18, 2014. 
Trustees are to receive reports in March and then a decision is scheduled for May 2014. 
The five local schools potentially on the chopping block are 
St. John Bosco Catholic School, George Vanier Catholic School, St. Andrew’s Catholic School, 
St. Casimir’s Catholic School and 
St. Mary’s Catholic School. 
However, this October 16, no specifics in this regard were mentioned.
Instead, Adam explained, the purpose of the recent public meeting was to review the challenges facing Catholic schools in Madawaska Valley, provide an overview of the ARC process, to seek community input, as well as assess and review School Information Profiles (SIP.)
Maps, specific statistics and an array of information packages were presented and discussed. 
For instance, statistics such as enrolment trends were recently made public and assessed. 
In 2007/2008, enrolment in total for all five schools was about 500. Meanwhile, in 2016/2017, projected enrolment is expected to be around 300, Adam told those in attendance. 
Steadily, the numbers are going down, Adam elaborated. Currently, 370 students are accounted for.
“But the numbers are expected to still decline further. And it’s not just a problem here in Madawaska Valley. This is a problem in Renfrew County and across the province, I imagine,” he said.
What’s more to consider, the chairman went on to say, to date, numbers are even lower than originally projected in 2007/2008. 
Actual enrolment for each of the schools as of September 20, 2013 is as follows: St. John Bosco, 164, George Vanier 45, St. Andrew’s 129 St. Casimir’s, nine and 
St. Mary’s 23. 
“Therefore, three of the five schools…have lower enrolment rates than projected,” Adam said. 
Only George Vanier and 
St. Andrew’s were up in enrolment, Vanier with five students and Andrew’s, one.  
Similarly, costs and numbers for operating, maintenance, school administration and transportation numbers were crunched and discussed this past Wednesday. 
The financial analysis of the schools unveiled numbers like the current per student costs to operate each school, as well as the five-year projected cost per student to operate each school. Transportation costs per students were also discussed.   
Taking into consideration operations, maintenance and school administration, per pupil for example, St. John Bosco’s current total cost now is roughly $7,500. In five years time, the projected costs are about $11,012. Vanier, likewise, in five years will increase about $7,000 in costs, St. Casimir’s is expected to increase from about $14,432 to $42,924 and St. Mary’s, from about $15,194 to $30,081. 
Read more in the October 23, 2013 issue of The Valley Gazette.