New Brunswick

DEC recommends closure of Saint John-area school

The Anglophone South District Education Council have voted to recommend the closure of Morna Heights School.

In a 9-2 vote, the DEC sends recommendation to minister to close Morna Heights

Katie Harding, mother of two girls who both attend Morna Heights School, says she still has hope Minister of Education Dominic Cardy will keep the school open. (Hadeel Ibrahim/CBC)

The Anglophone South District Education Council has voted to recommend the closure of Morna Heights School.

This is the third time they've voted on the issue, but the first time a majority recommended closing the K-5 school. Their recommendation will go up to the Minister of Education Dominic Cardy, who will have 30 to 60 days to decide to close the school or keep it open.

Katie Harding, mother of two girls who both attend Morna Heights, spoke against the closure during the public comment section of the meeting Wednesday, and spoke to media after the vote.

"I'm not giving up any hope," she said. "It's not done until [Cardy] says what he needs to say."

She said Cardy "believes in facts as opposed to opinion."

"I think that he'll look over everything that's gone on and he'll make his decision on fact."

Twelve members of the public were at the meeting, appearing on behalf of Grandbay-Westfield community members and parents. They clapped for Harding after her public comments, and left soon after the DEC's vote.

Rob Fowler, chair of the Anglophone South District Education Council, says the DEC followed all rules and policies. (Hadeel Ibrahim/CBC)

The 9-2 vote took place after two public consultation meetings. The members took into consideration the school's declining enrolment and deteriorating infrastructure. The school was built in 1963, and there are 72 students enrolled there this year.

The school is still safe for students, but maintenance costs were looming, the council heard.

DEC chair Rob Fowler previously said the school repair and maintenance estimate is around $1 million over the next 10 to 15 years.

Multiple members admitted this is a drop in the bucket - in fact, closing Morna Heights will only save 1 per cent of the overall education budget.

DEC member Larry Boudreau told the council he will vote against this motion. He said he doesn't believe this closure will make much of a dent in the budget.

"In the grand scheme of things this so-called money … isn't going to pull this province around," he said.

Other DEC members who spoke out see the importance of the financial impact. DEC member Linda Sherbo brought up the government's announcement to cut overnight hours for six hospital ERs in the province.

"I do take seriously the fiscal reality of the province," she said. 

But she still can see where parents are coming from.

"I'm a retired educator, I've been on both sides of this issue. When it comes to the passion, I completely understand it."

Living in the unknown

There were proposals to close Morna Heights in 2011 and again in 2015, but both times it was saved after public outcry. Harding said this means her family has been living in an unknown for eight years.

"I was pregnant with my youngest daughter attending the first meetings," she said.

Harding said this has had an impact on her and her children.

"My youngest daughter is in Grade 3 and she is devastated by this, because my children have been affected by this three times," she said.

If the minister decides to close the school, the doors will shut in June. The children attending Morna Heights will be bused to neighbouring Saint Rose School, 10 kilometres away.

Harding said the school is irreplaceable for the community.

"When you walk through that door everybody knows who you are you are welcomed. You are a part of a family. You're not a part of a building," she said.

Fowler said this was not an easy decision for DEC members.

"People will lose sleep over this, and they have," he said. "I know that it's a struggle both for us as well as the community."

He said historically, it's been "very difficult" to get a minister to approve a closure. 

"They don't want to be held responsible for closing the school, everybody's trying to get re-elected," he said.

"Ultimately Dominic Cardy could reject this for whatever reason he feels fit, but I'm comfortable we've done everything according to the process and the policy."

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