Save our elementary schools, parents plead

COMBERMERE – Parents of local Catholic school students are proving they are not going to lose their elementary schools without a fight. 
On November 27, dozens of parents, teachers and parishioners filled the gymnasium at George Vanier Catholic School. There, members of the Renfrew County Catholic District School Board’s Accommodation Review Committee (ARC) presented three proposed options for five local elementary schools.
Schools include St. Andrews Catholic School in Killaloe, St. John Bosco Catholic School in Barry’s Bay, St. Casimir’s Catholic School in Round Lake Centre, St. Mary’s Catholic School in Wilno and George Vanier Catholic School in Combermere.
Peter Adam is the superintendent of education at the Renfrew County Catholic District School Board. 
“The purpose of this meeting is for you to have input into the process,” he told the gathered crowd on Wednesday.
He reiterated that the ARC is not a decision-making body and that the decision of school closures ultimately rests in the hands of the Board of Trustees. 
The ARC has been asked to meet with the public to come up with various options for the schools, each of which are facing declining enrolments.
“Our enrolment in all five schools has been dropping steadily over the last five years,” Adam said. “It’s trending to continue to drop drastically over the next two years after that.”
According to statistics presented at the meeting, in 2007/2008, there were 498 students in the Madawaska Catholic school system. The board forecasts by 2016/2017, that number will drop to 297.
The five elementary schools were each built for a certain number of students, Adam said. But some of the schools are at less than half-capacity today.
For example, St. Casimir’s in Round Lake was built for 69 students but to date, there are only nine students attending the school.
St. Mary’s was built for 115 students but only has 23 students this year. 
George Vanier was built for 129 kids but only 45 are enrolled today.
“Whenever a school gets below 50 per cent capacity, the questions start being asked about is this viable…” Adam said. 
There are three proposals on the table, including one from administration staff and two from the ARC. 
 “We want input from the community to say what is it that is about the option that is good, bad or otherwise, because that is the purpose of these meetings and all of the working meetings,” Adam said. “They are called options at this stage because they are not decisions, they are options.”
Administrative staff’s option proposes transferring the students from St. Casimir’s Catholic School to St. Andrews in Killaloe and St. Mary’s in Wilno to St. John Bosco. George Vanier would remain open.
Adam pointed out bus times for the option would increase, on average, for students. St. Casimir’s students would see an increase of around 4.5 minutes and St. Mary’s students, an average of 29 minutes per day.
“There is no question there is some significant ride times,” Adams said. “That’s a given.”
He added even with this option, the enrolment numbers will continue to drop at the schools.
The ARC, on the other hand, has come up with two other proposed options, the first being all five schools remain open and nothing changes. 
Read more in the December 4, 2013 issue of The Valley Gazette.