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