P.E.I.'s Eastern School District will recommend to the provincial government that eight of 11 schools suggested for closure in a report earlier this year be shut down.
Of the three schools spared — Georgetown, Parkdale, St. Jean — one is in a town and two are in Charlottetown, leaving the more rural schools taking the brunt of the school board's recommendations to government.
As the evening progressed, voting broke down along clear male-female lines, with the woman trustees voting to keep the schools open. Five of the votes had all of the men on the board voting for the schools to be closed, and all the women voting for them to remain open.
Those votes required a tie-break from board chair Bob Clow, who voted for closure.
Clow was spared making the tie-breaking vote on the other motions that went against the three Souris-area schools — Rollo Bay Consolidated, Fortune Consolidated and Eastern Kings Consolidated — because trustee Ann Miller recused herself due to a conflict of interest: She works in the daycare at Souris Consolidated.
The male-female split was not lost on the crowd of 500 or more who attended the session in the gym at Morell Regional High School. They began to taunt the men on the board during the vote to close St. Teresa's Consolidated school, the fourth time Clow's tie-breaking vote was the deciding factor.
Earlier, tie-breaking votes by Clow put Grand Tracadie School, Tracadie Cross Consolidated and Dundas Consolidated School on the list of institutions facing closure.
"Our children are going to be crying tomorrow when we tell them our school's closing," one woman shouted during the St. Teresa's motion.
During the debate on the St. Teresa's motion, trustee Gael MacEachern stressed that the report that recommended the school closures did not consider a large enough picture, and the province should take advantage of the level of engagement of the public that has come out of the public consultations in recent months.
"We have engaged the public like no other process in this province has," MacEachern said. "We need to embrace that, not push it away."
Tracadie Cross under the gun
Classes with more than one grade in them was a focus of the discussion on Tracadie Cross, as it was with previous schools at the special meeting .
Trustee Sandy Clark said split classes were a disservice to students, and acknowledged the strong support of the parents in the gym at Morell Senior High School.
"I cannot say I am a servant of the parents," Clark said, "but I am certainly a servant of the students."
Trustee Elizabeth Rankin supported split classes, noting some schools in New Zealand actually choose split classes as an educational strategy that allows students to support each other.
"We will continue to have split classes in the Eastern School District, whether we close schools or not," Rankin said.
Clow broke a tie vote among the trustees to pass a motion to close the school, the third time to that point in the meeting that it fell to Clow to cast the deciding vote.
Georgetown School survives narrow vote
The boisterous crowd in attendance at the meeting cheered when the trustees voted to keep Georgetown School open.
With the previous two votes splitting perfectly between men and women on the board — with the men all voting to close schools — audience members began to heckle the male trustees, asking whether any of them had hearts.
As the debate progressed, audience members demanded to hear from Richard Collins, the trustee representing the Montague area, where Georgetown students would have been sent if their school had been closed. Clow asked the audience to respect trustee Gael MacEachern, whom he had just recognized.
MacEachern asked Clow for permission to yield the floor to Collins. Given the floor, Collins made a very brief statement.
"I will be supporting the Town of Georgetown," he said to the loudest cheers of the evening.
"There is a man up there," shouted one voice from the audience.
Dundas Consolidated faces closure
Moving to break a tie for the second vote in a row, Clow voted in favour of closing Dundas Consolidated School.
Speaking in favour of closing the school, trustee David Mitchell noted change is inevitable, and that Dundas Consolidated was itself the result of the closing of small schools. He said the school worked very well for a time, but it was time to move on.
Tie-break goes against St. Peter's Consolidated
Much of the debate on St. Peter's focused on the need to support rural communities.
"It will be another way we are taking services away from our rural communities," said trustee Elizabeth Rankin.
Trustee Sandy Clark acknowledged that the school was very valuable to the community, but noted the building would still be available for other purposes.
The student population at the school was eroding, he said, and it was getting more difficuilt to provide them with a full slate of programs.
Grand Tracadie Elementary voted closed
With trustees tied 5-5 in a vote to close Grand Tracadie Elementary, Clow voted in favour of closing the school.
Grand Tracadie Elementary is one of the smallest schools in the district, but trustee Ann Miller said her visits to the school convinced her that was not a problem, saying if the students are doing well, then the school is OK.
"It is the one school that has made me think differently about the numbers argument," Miller said. "Sometimes a small school delivers not just a good education, but an exemplary education."
She also noted Grand Tracadie was the only rural school being asked to transition to an urban school from a rural school.
Speaking in favour of closing the school, trustee Sandy Clark said small schools cannot provide the opportunities required by both students who need extra support and those who are excelling.
"Those students who are really very bright, many of them are bored to death," Clark said to boos from the audience. "Ten per cent of our students are not getting the best they can get."
Charlottetown schools survive vote
Earlier in the meeting, the board voted in favour of keeping open two schools in Charlottetown that had been threatened with closure.
The motion to close St. Jean Elementary was defeated 7-3.
In the first vote, the motion to close Parkdale School was defeated by a vote of 10-0.
Several trustees spoke out against the closing of the school in advance of the first vote. Trustees Edna Reid and Gael MacEachern went further, saying none of the 11 schools recommended for closure in a report by the district superintendent should be closed.
"I asked myself if by closing these schools will I be doing the best for the students of the Eastern School District, and the answer is no," said Reid.
Closing the schools was recommended in a report earlier this year, and months of public consultation followed. The trustees voted on separate motions regarding the closure of each school at Friday's meeting.
MacEachern echoed the sentiments of several trustees in saying that expecting school board staff to prepare a school organization plan in three and a half months, a request made by Education Minister Gerard Greenan, was not realistic. Public input echoed that concern, she said.
"Do it right. Do it after rezoning, after kindergarten, and after a professional transportation study."
The final decision on whether to close schools rests with the provincial cabinet. Those schools that are closed will not reopen in September following the summer holiday.
|R. Clow||A. Miller||G. MacEachern||S. Clark||R. Collins||B. Dingwell||R. Lee||D. Mitchell||E. Rankin||E. Reid||H. Somers|
|St. Teresa's Cons.||Yes||No||No||Yes||Yes||No||Yes||Yes||No||No||Yes|
|Tracadie Cross Cons.||Yes||No||No||Yes||Yes||No||Yes||Yes||No||No||Yes|
|St. Peter's Cons.||Yes||No||No||Yes||Yes||No||Yes||Yes||No||No||Yes|
|Grand Tracadie Elementary||Yes||No||No||Yes||Yes||No||Yes||Yes||No||No||Yes|
|St. Jean Elementary, Ch'town||No||No||No||Yes||Yes||No||No||Yes||No||No||No|
|Parkdale Elementary, Ch'town||No||No||No||No||No||No||No||No||No||No||No|
|Eastern Kings Cons., Souris||—||No||Yes||Yes||No||Yes||Yes||No||No||Yes|
|Rollo Bay Cons.||—||No||Yes||Yes||No||Yes||Yes||No||No||Yes|