South Stormont ‘shocked, disappointed’ by proposed RO closure: MacIsaac

In this Nov. 14, 2016, file photo, ARC delegates from South Stormont schools take part in a public meeting at General Vanier Secondary School. Jennifer MacIsaac is third from the left. (Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston, File)

SOUTH STORMONT – An Accommodation Review Committee member from South Stormont says the community is “truly shocked and disappointed” on the final recommendations from the Upper Canada District School Board.

Among the dozen schools that it’s earmarked for closure is Rothwell-Osnabruck Secondary School in Ingleside, a closure that would take place by September. Longue Sault Public School in Long Sault was taken off the list of proposed cuts.

“Our community had a united solution for both Longue Sault Public School and RO Secondary right from the beginning. That solution was thoroughly supported by residents, municipal leaders, the business community and what the community wanted had made been quite clear through the survey feedback provided, yet the superintendents failed to include this in their report,” Jennifer MacIsaac told Cornwall Newswatch.

The community proposal was to bring French immersion back to RO, keep the boundaries the same with Longue Sault PS feeding RO, which would result in 96 and 97 per cent capacity at the schools.

“We were definitely shocked that this was not reflected, that our solution was not reflected in the report,” she said.

Instead, RO Secondary would be closed and students would go to Tagwi Secondary School in Avonmore. In its report, the board suggests the decision is the “coming together” of both Stormont communities to meet programming needs for grades 9-12 while also “respecting the expressed desire of parents and students to remain in a rural connection.”

The change would result in an operating funding loss of $410,970. Additional transportation costs would total $140,000. The board suggests average school bus travel times for RO students would drop by five minutes (35 minutes from 40 minutes).

“Rural way of life is definitely important but our main argument for South Stormont is we didn’t want to see our students travelling on a bus,” in a community where nearly a third of students walk to school, MacIsaac explained.

“It leaves us wondering, why are they looking to take our students out of thriving communities and send them out into the country where there isn’t that community there to support them?” MacIsaac questioned.

Tagwi Secondary is on County Road 43, surrounded by fields. It’s about 3.5 kilometers east of Avonmore.

“We’re definitely going to keep fighting. Right now, today, I’m hearing from angry residents, parents, students, business leaders and they just can’t believe that they would take schools out of thriving communities and send our kids elsewhere,” she said.

MacIsaac also noted the recent census data showing South Stormont as one of the fastest growing townships in SD&G with a growth rate of 3.9 per cent from 2011-2016.

She says the “rural option may be better” but it’s not convenient for parents that work in Cornwall to be able to get their kids to extra-curricular activities in Avonmore.

MacIsaac is already hearing from parents that are keeping their options open about switching to the Catholic board and will be visiting the St. Joseph’s Catholic Secondary School open house this week.

She says their strategy before Wednesday’s meeting is to get the information out there. “To inform the community about what is happening. This is a proposal created by superintendents that will go to trustees.”

She hopes that trustees, elected by the public, will “step up to the plate” and do the right thing. “The trustees are the decision makers.”

MacIsaac plans to be at the Wednesday meeting at 6:30 p.m. in Kemptville. She says a delegation is also planned for the special board meeting on March 2 before the board makes its final decision March 23.

In order for it “not to be lost in the shuffle,” MacIsaac says the entire South Stormont ARC report (not the condensed version) will be sent to all trustees.