Anger, frustration mounting in Wentworth

Darrell Cole
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Parents, school supporters disgusted with closure process

WENTWORTH – The Chignecto-Central Regional School Board’s decision to move Wentworth Elementary closer to closure is not sitting well with members of the community.

The board voted at a special meeting Tuesday to move five schools to the next phase in the closure process with public meetings during March, after which it will make recommendations to the Department of Education with closures occurring as soon as September.

Cecil MacLeod chaired the Wentworth school review committee and admitted to being disappointed and angry with the board’s decision.

“I’m pretty angry, I’m not going to lie. I’m furious that not even a single school out of the five is going to be saved with the facts we put in front of them,” MacLeod said Wednesday. “That is disgusting and infuriating to all of us who put in probably 10 times the effort the operational department did to put us on the chopping block.”

MacLeod said looking at what the board brought forward to back the closure process and comparing it to what the community review committee submitted shows the board hasn’t done its homework and is using a flawed process.

“They sit there in their suits and hand out pacifying facts and most board members just suck it up and take it,” he said, adding he’s disappointed the area’s own board member didn’t vote for the school.

MacLeod said the board will not save money closing the school in Wentworth because there will be added transportation costs and he’s furious the board plans to divide the community by sending some students to Oxford and the rest to Pugwash.

He also pointed out the board is using enrolment projections based on the 2006 census instead of the actual information presented by the community.

“I honestly feel wholeheartedly there is an agenda and I’m disgusted by it,” he said. “Unfortunately for them I’m going to get a lot louder. I’ve been nice about it until now, but I’m not going to be nice about it anymore. If that’s the way the school board is going to operate that’s the way I’m going to have to operate too.”

Carol Hyslop, who is a former school board member, said she’s disappointed with the board because it really didn’t consider the information that was collected by the review committee.

“People are not taking the busing issue seriously and the amount of time the students will be spending on the bus. They’re already on too long now. If they do as planned, they’ll be on the bus for almost two hours one way,” she said. “I’m also concerned with splitting the community with students on one side of the highway going to one school and those on the other side going to another school.”

She said this is the fourth time the school has been on the chopping block and she said the present process did not include options for keeping it open.

Wentworth’s public meeting will be on March 5.

Cumberland South MLA and PC Party Leader Jamie Baillie said he’s frustrated with the board.

“The board relied on a faulty report when they started the review. The community spoke up, did its homework and poked giant holes in that faulty report and still they’re going ahead with the review,” Baillie said, adding the report ignores busing standards in place to prevent students from spending too much time on the bus. “It contained incorrect information on the state of the school itself and enrolment projects that our outright wrong. For those reasons that review should have been stopped in its tracks last night.”

He said the reviews don’t take into consideration the role of small, rural schools in the communities they’re located. It’s a policy, he said, that needs to be in place at the Department of Education level. Until then, he said, none of the reviews are valid.

Baillie said he’s already been touch with the chairwoman of the school’s advisory council, Andrea Rushton, and he will work with the community to fight the closure.

Also, with this being an election year, he is promising to stop the process if he becomes premier.

The school board’s Wentworth representative, Margaret Nicholson, could not be reached for comment on Wednesday

Organizations: Department of Education, Central Regional School Board, Wentworth school Cumberland South MLA and PC Party

Geographic location: Wentworth, Chignecto, Oxford Pugwash

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Recent comments

  • MJ Allen
    June 22, 2013 - 22:39

    25 students. The situation is diffwerent for Advocate as they are isolated.

  • jess
    February 09, 2013 - 11:39

    what happens to these kids when they hit grade isn't being published that they get bussed to other schools once they are done will be tough to form friendships in grade 6 also..there is no high school in wentworth!! there are less than 30 kids in the school mike.

  • Concerned Parents
    February 08, 2013 - 10:08

    @REALITY CHECK you don't want taxpayers shouldering the burden of costs, but what are the net costs? With each community schools closed proposed savings run approximately $100-200k / year in many instances. Yet for many of those closures the province rewards school boards through capital investments in the receiving schools usually in the range of $2million - that would offset 10 more years of maintaining the community school in just that NEW provincial funding alone. With respect to the financial burden school boards have, just look at the Strait Regional School Board, which is a bit a head of the curve relative to other Boards. They've claimed poor for the past few years while undergoing school reviews, yet their posted deficits, in particular last year, were not the result of operating expenses exceeding provincial revenue, but rather a $900,000 extraordinary expense under "allowance for doubtful accounts". $1.5 million expensed as doubtful accounts in the past five years - $300k per year, which is more than the proposed savings from closure of individual community schools. This year the SRSB is already projecting a $400,000 surplus, which they now plan to spend before fiscal end of year so that the funds do not get frozen by the province, which means they are likely going to end the year with a balanced budget, however this clearly shows that the financial argument for closing schools (ie. Rev. H.J. MacDonald was proposed to save about $175,000) are NOT justifiable, because the schools are clearly not unmanageable expenses on the Board's operating budget, in many instances. With respect to schools being closed due to enrolment declines, again with the SRSB Rev. H.J. MacDonald had increasing enrolment for 4 years, a significant portion of the earlier declines in enrolment were identified as a result of administrative action that encouraged students from within the catchment area of the school to attend other schools in the county, eventually the area doesn't even realize they are supposed to go to the community school. Furthermore, within the catchment area the 2011 census reported the single largest cohort / demographic is preschool aged children (0-4 years) thus one would have to logically conclude that the school would continue to see increased enrolment for the next 5 years. Not the administrators that prepared the ID and IAR Reports for the school - they predicted declining enrolment over the next five years and did not even acknowledge the four year growing enrolment trend nor explain any justification for their projection of declining enrolment. Point being, yes there may be community schools that have to close, but let's not fool ourselves into believing hook line & sinker the stinkers school boards and the province are selling parents and community members across the province that rural community schools are not sustainable, or that they are a significant drain on the education resources of the province ... an honest look at the data does not support those conclusions time and time again. Note, the anger and frustration being expressed by parents and community members is NOT just about the prospects of loosing the community school. The process is NOT emotional, as the Minister of Education recently stated on CBC's Mainstreet due to the potential loss, but emotional due to the process itself. Due to the fact that, in many instances the reports prepared by six figure administrators in school boards across the province, or in some cases like the south shore even more expensive consultants, the information presented is incomplete, inaccurate and/or misleading. As noted the financial and enrolment projections. If you can find a single ID / IAR report that takes a truly unbiased stance and presents the full picture of the "Impacts" of closing these community schools please share it ... it is that bias built into the process - who are the elected officials going to side with, their six figure staff members or "emotional" parents and community members?

    • honker
      February 09, 2013 - 12:00

      Some suggestions: 1.Your rant would be more effective if you structured it into a number of paragraphs. 2. If you have points to make, keep them short and factual. 3. You need to go public using clearly presented facts with high impact announcements. 4, Demonstrations that keep the message clear and simple are always good and strike fear in bureaucrats and politicians.

  • Dave
    February 07, 2013 - 17:57

    Province 4 billion more in debt than we were 3 years ago,10 thousand less jobs this year. All kinds of money fore paper mills and NSPC,nothing for schools. I think we all should be able to see we need a change of government. Don't forget the big story the S##T'S start here,where are all these jobs .I think it will be like the EH101 the Government will change there will be no ships and the Irvings get millions for a shipyard that will not make any ships. GO NDP "PLEASE"!!!

  • Lisa
    February 07, 2013 - 14:05

    @ Reality Check: Have you kept up? There ARE no declines in enrollment in Wentworth. The school boards projections were based on a 2006 census.... the kids attending school in the next few years weren't even BORN yet. How are tax payers subsidizing anything here? Parents make up all of the extras. Library, hot lunch, fluoride, chaperons, movie nights to raise money. The only difference between our school of (about) 25 kids and a larger school is that our 25 kids aren't all in a classroom with 4 more kids and 1 teacher. Mine are 2 (going to be 3 and 4) kids who will be travelling the almost 2 hours each way daily: TOO MUCH TIME ON A BUS.

  • Trudy Geist
    February 07, 2013 - 13:20

    50 students, the same amount as Advocate, but no one is trying to close Advocate....yet.....

  • reality check
    February 07, 2013 - 09:57

    Small schools are the lifeblood of those communities but if young families are not living in those communities and choosing (due to employment conditions) to live in larger centres (which also have schools), can you blame them? And the taxpayer cannot be expected to continue to shoulder the cost of subsidizing these areas with declining enrollment. Something has to give. Jamie Baillie and Scott Armstrong obviously do not understand fundamental economics. If they wish to make massive changes at the provincial (education dept funding to CCRSB) and federal levels (Canada Health & Social Transfer from feds to NS) that will bring more employment to Cumberland County. Otherwise, don't interfere in a local school board.

  • mike
    February 07, 2013 - 09:38

    Could someone please publish the number of students who attend the Wentworth School please. Would be interesting to know !!!!!!!!