County wants independent assessment of school structure
© Dave Mathieson - Cumberland News Now
Crystal Bushen (left) and Andrea Rushton, spokespeople for the Wentworth School Sustainability Association, turned to county council for help Wednesday afternoon regarding the scheduled closure of Wentworth Elementary School on June 30, 2015.
UPPER NAPPAN - Scheduled to close June 30, 2015, the fate of Wentworth Elementary School is no closer to being resolved under the Nova Scotia Liberal government of Stephen MacNeil than it was were under Darrell Dexter's NDP government.
"Following the provincial election we asked the Minister of Education (Karen Casey) to meet with our group," said Crystal Bushen, spokesperson for the Wentworth School Sustainability Association, during a presentation to county councilors during the Wednesday's bi-weekly meeting of council. "Her reply in January was very non-committal and she suggested that we meet with senior staff of the Chignecto Central Regional School Board.
"We then provided her with further information in February and she reminded us that the Ministerial Education Act regulations do not allow her to intervene or overturn their decision."
The school was originally scheduled to close in June of this year but backlash from the community forced the previous government to extend the closure for one year.
"The board stated that the delay was to allow the community of Wentworth an opportunity to explore alternative funding options and models," said Bushen. "If the community is unable to present the board with alternative funding sources the closure will take place as planned."
Almost one year into the reprieve, the sustainability association has received no guidance from the CCRSB.
"We have been requesting information from the board since last May that would help us to determine the amount of money we are expected to raise and to help us implement a long term plan to sustain our school in our community," said Bushen. "Both the superintendent and the chair tell us that they await information from the Department of Education before they can share rules and regulations with us."
Bushen says the wait for information has been frustrating.
"The withholding of information and lack of guidance we have received since the handing down of the decision leaves us in limbo," she added.
Allison Gillis, councilor for District 4, said, "Any documents out there should be available. They (the association) need things to work with."
Council then passed a motion to send a letter to the school board to acquire the information.
One major hurdle to overcome is repairÔÇÖs that need to be done to the school. The school board says the cost to replace the roof would cost about $160,000.
Bushen said it would help if the county were to inspect the school building themselves.
"Perhaps a building inspection done by the county would identify future repairs and would give the municipality an opportunity to see what they will have returned to them in June of 2015 if the closure goes ahead."
Keith Hunter, county warden, liked the idea.
"Some of those (assessment) documents might be flawed and maybe we should have an independent contractor go in and do an assessment of that school," said Hunter. "It might not turn out the way you want it but, then again, it might."
It was pointed out that the school board would probably not allow an independent contractor access to the school because of reasons pertaining to insurance liabilities.
Despite the warning, Hunter said the county would pursue getting their own assessment done.
Enrollment projections are another area where the association doesn't agree with the school board.
"We have surveyed real families in our community and we see an upward trend going forward," said Bushen. "We currently have 21 students and expect 31 in the next three years."
She finished by warning that closing the school will be detrimental to Wentworth's economy and to the safety of its residents.
"We are just beginning to recover since the opening of the Cobequid Pass and the devastation it created," said Bushen. "If families move from the Wentworth area the volunteer fire service will likely suffer and lose younger members and new builds will decline."