More provincial funds could help realize new...
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Apr 09, 2008  |  Vote 0    0

More provincial funds could help realize new elementary school

St. Marys Journal Argus

No matter which option is eventually chosen for new elementary school accommodations in St. Marys, base funding from the provincial government's "prohibitive to repair" (PTR) program will not be sufficient. And Perth-Wellington MPP John Wilkinson has given the indication that, depending on the ability of various stakeholders to agree on a plan, additionalEducation Ministry funding may be forthcoming. That's what several parents and Town of St. Marys representatives learned Friday, April 4 when they met in Stratford at Wilkinson's office, along with the MPP and two trustees from the Avon Maitland District School Board.Board chair Meg Westley, in describing the information relayed at the behind-closed-doors meeting, told the Journal Argus that, "in consultation with teaching staff and various other staff in the schools, it has become apparent that the kind of bare-bones school" that the PTR formula is meant to provide "is not what (the board) wants."The province announced $4.8 million in PTR funding for St. Marys last fall, after declaring it would cost more to maintain Arthur Meighen and St. Marys Central elementary schools over a 10-year period than it would to build new accommodations for the town's Kindergarten-Grade 8 students. Initial indications from the board suggested the only facility which could be built for $4.8 million would be an addition to St. Marys DCVI for a combined K-12 school.But at Friday's meeting, Westley and Perth South/West Perth trustee Carol Bennewies explained that's not the case."It would be considerably more," Westley said Monday, adding that such an addition - with sufficient "flexible space" for specialized programming and one-on-one students' services - would require between $1-2 million over and above the base PTR contribution.St. Marys Mayor Jamie Hahn, who initiated the meeting on behalf of a grassroots parents' group, said much of the discussion revolved around Education-related elements of the new provincial budget, released March 25.The Budget earmarked $750 million over the next three years for "new schools and existing schools." And Wilkinson expressed a level of confidence that some of that money could end up being used for a new St. Marys school.But, speaking from Toronto on Monday, Wilkinson cautioned that the school board must come to the Education Ministry with a plan. "I will be guided by the decisions of the board," in terms of how to approach Minister Kathleen Wynne for funding.Hahn echoed that advice. "It will be up to the school board to apply for the money. Not Mr. Wilkinson, not the community members, not the Town of St. Marys . . . But it's up to us to work together with Mr. Wilkinson and put him in a strong position to argue for that money."It needs to be a ‘win, win, win' for all involved," the Mayor said. With Avon Maitland administrators scheduled to bring recommendations to theboard on Tuesday, April 22 - and trustees scheduled to vote on a final planMay 13 - the question now becomes: which option is most likely to loosen thepursestrings for additional PTR funding?"Everybody's got to work together," agreed parent group member John Munro,who attended the meeting.Munro admitted, however, to still having misgivings about the board'sdecision-making process. And he traces those misgivings back to the level ofEducation funding in the province."I think there's a fundamental funding problem here," he told the JournalArgus. "The bottom line is that there's not enough money to build either (atthe DCVI site or adjacent to the Pyramid Centre - an option supported by arecent 700-plus-name petition to the board) . . . And that's why we're allfeeling this pinch."He says there's pressure to come to what many could view as a compromiseposition. According to Westley, board members "think it's highly unlikelythat the Ministry would give us money for a K-8 school" at the Pyramid site.And she adds the board can see the Ministry's point: "It would not beparticularly economical or efficient of us, when there's unused space at thehigh school."She stressed trustees have no idea what Avon Maitland administrators willrecommend on April 22. "And I'm not one to say miracles don't happen." Butshe explained that "the Ministry has put a lot of provisos on the PTRprocess,"- including a requirement that the Ministry approve all plans forusing the money.She did say administrative staff is calculating construction costs for threeoptions: an addition to DCVI to create a K-12 school; a new K-8 facility onthe Pyramid site; and a K-6 school on the Pyramid site, with Grades 7 and 8students accommodated in some form at DCVI.Munro cautioned against any comparison to the board's experience placingGrades 7 and 8 students in high school settings in Stratford. He noted thecurrent St. Marys population of Grades 5 and 6 students - the students whocould potentially form the first senior elementary students sent to DCVIafter new construction - is about 105.At two different high school settings in Stratford, meanwhile, thepopulation of Grades 7 and 8s is approximately 250 on each site.Munro admitted, however, that it may come down to some kind of compromise ifthe stakeholders hope to send a united message, through Wilkinson, to theEducation Ministry.Hahn, meanwhile, seemed less inclined towards that kind of compromise. Henoted the "front-runner" during earlier rounds of public consultation wasthe K-8 on the Pyramid site. "If that doesn't happen, then that process wasjust window dressing, and I can tell you there's going to be hundreds andhundreds of people who are damn annoyed."It was pretty near 100 per cent, and that's almost unheard of in this dayand age."Hahn had kind words, however, for all who attended the meeting, saying 4:30on a Friday afternoon isn't necessarily an attractive time slot to discussweighty issues. And he credited Wilkinson for pledging to work at Queen'sPark for additional funding.

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