As anticipated, Algoma District School Board (ADSB) trustees have voted to close Arthur Henderson Public School in Bruce Mines, intending to move the school’s 60 remaining JK to Grade 3 children to Central Algoma Elementary School (CAES) in Desbarats.
The final decision, which board administrators and trustees acknowledged as a difficult one, was made at their meeting Tuesday night after an Accommodation Review Committee recommended the aging school be closed.
The move is dependent upon the ADSB receiving funding from the Ministry of Education for an addition to CAES to accommodate the remaining Henderson students.
Joe Santa Maria, ADSB superintendent of business, told SooToday Arthur Henderson’s numbers on the facility condition index (a scale which ranks a school’s physical state) show it to be in “poor to critical condition.”
“I just think it’s ridiculous, I don’t really know what else to say,” said Aspen Zeppa, the mother of two children currently attending Arthur Henderson, speaking to SooToday.
“They’re dumping money into a brand new school (new space at CAES in Desbarats) when it only would have taken $2 million to get Arthur Henderson up to standard and they spent $7 million on an addition, and they have to submit and get more funding.”
“I don’t understand, and I’ll never understand,” Zeppa said.
Previously, approximately 35 Grades 4, 5 and 6 students were removed from Henderson to attend CAES for the start of the 2016-2017 school year.
“In terms of dollars, right now the needs of the building are about $6 million as opposed to an addition to the Central Algoma Elementary School, costing anywhere in the $2 million range,” Santa Maria said.
A disappointed and upset Zeppa disagreed.
“After they removed half our students (the Grades 4, 5 and 6 students to CAES) they manipulated the facility condition index to show a crazy number,” Zeppa said, adding the board made it appear Arthur Henderson was “a hunk of rubble.”
“Because they took our kids (from Grades 4, 5 and 6) without an accommodation review, they were able to manipulate that number in order to close Arthur Henderson.”
Zeppa said she fears sending her children to school by bus.
“I had my best friend die on that highway when I was 16 years old, I am perfectly aware of what that highway can do, and sending my kids down that highway in (bad) weather and all kinds of conditions, it’s sickening. “
“(They’re going to be) on buses with high school kids…I don’t agree with any of this. My kids are four and five.”
“Honestly, this has made me reconsider where I’d live, I may not stay in this community because of this decision…I might head to southern Ontario,” Zeppa said.
“I moved home so my kids could grow up in this community (Bruce Mines), and I commute every day to Sault Ste. Marie, so they could have that.”
“My oldest is in Grade 2 and she’s aware of what’s going on, so I’m trying to tell her it’s going to be a fun thing for her, because I knew that it was very likely this was going to happen,” said Melissa Allard, also a parent of two children at Arthur Henderson, clearly upset as she spoke to SooToday.
“I don’t think they understand what rural northern communities are, and there’s people down in Toronto (with the Ministry of Education) making these decisions and they trickle to the board, and the trustees have to make a decision and I understand that…(but) they haven’t told us what’s going to happen if they can’t get funding (for an expanded CAES),” Zeppa said.
That message didn’t seem to be lost on Robert McEachren, North Shore-based ADSB trustee, who voted in favour of the Henderson closure, citing the need to observe fiscal responsibility.
However, McEachren emphasized his concern northern and rural communities are “dying.”
“We need politicians who are going to stand up and start doing things for northern Ontario, not just for the Greater Toronto Area,” McEachren told reporters.
McEachren said he will be meeting with Mike Mantha, Algoma-Manitoulin MPP.
“It’s a start…we’ve no summer programs for children in Blind River. We need to have our kids outside, occupied and doing fun things, not sitting on the couch playing computer games,” McEachren said.
“As far as I’m concerned, they (the board) have not been transparent,” Zeppa said.
“We can (now) go forward with a more formal request (for funding for the CAES addition, in order to accommodate the former Arthur Henderson students),” Santa Maria said.
“In this case, we feel positive (the ADSB will receive the funding for the addition),” Santa Maria said.
That approval and construction of the addition will take a year or two, said Sheryl Evans-Price, ADSB vice chair.
Until then, JK to Grade 3 students at Arthur Henderson will stay put.