South Stormont fights to keep schools open

Rothwell-Osnabruck School – The Leader/Blancher photo

CORNWALL – Two South Stormont groups presented solutions and championed to keep their schools open at a recent public meeting held January 23rd in Cornwall. The meeting, part of the Upper Canada District School Board’s Accommodation Review Committee (ARC) process, focused on the Cornwall and Highland families of schools including schools in South Stormont. The meeting was held at the General Vanier school board building.

Under the board’s draft proposal, Rothwell-Osnabruck Secondary and Longue Sault Public schools would both be closed. Grade 7-12 students from R-O would be bused to Cornwall Collegiate and Vocational School (CCVS). Kindergarten to Grade 6 students from Longue Sault would relocate and merge with the Kindergarten to Grade 6 students at R-O in Ingleside.

According to UCDSB statistics, Longue Sault is currently at 96 per cent occupancy. R-O Secondary has an occupancy of 35 per cent, R-O Elementary has an occupancy of 101 per cent.

R-O was the first K-12 school in the former Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry school board.

While a K-12 school, R-O Elementary is shown in the UCDSB school information profile as a Kindergarten to Grade 8 school.
Other elementary schools in the UCDSB are Kindergarten to Grade 6.

The first presentation in support of South Stormont’s schools was titled “Save South Stormont Schools Solution” and was presented by Jason Crites and Alex MacIsaac, both alumni of Rothwell-Osnabruck.

Proposed in the presentation is to keep Longue Sault Public and R-O Secondary open and bring French Immersion to all grades at R-O. When Longue Sault implemented French Immersion under the Boundary 20/20 plan, students who wanted to continue in French Immersion needed to choose between attending Tagwi or CCVS, both outside of their boundary of R-O Secondary. The intensified French program was removed from R-O Secondary after implementation of the Boundary 20/20 plan.

The UCDSB recently introduced the dual-track Early French Immersion program at R-O elementary and it is offered up to Grade 3 in the 2016-17 school year.

The group’s proposal of offering French Immersion at R-O Secondary would result in that school having an occupancy of 97 per cent. Longue Sault Public would remain at 96 per cent occupancy.

This would be without any boundary changes or additional busing costs or school improvements.

“A JK-12 school has lower operating costs and additional funding opportunities,” stated MacIsaac.

“There is one custodial staff, one administrative staff, facilities are shared among the elementary and secondary students.”

The second presentation before the ARC board was by Peter Young, Director of Planning and Economic Development Officer for the Township of South Stormont.

Young’s presentation focused on the growth and projected growth in South Stormont. The presentation stated 30 per cent of building permits issued in the united counties was from South Stormont and that 393 housing units have been approved since 2010. To date over 159 of those dwellings have been constructed, that 62 units are in the approval process and an additional 648 units are undergoing the pre-approval process.

“We’re growing in South Stormont,” said Young.

Projections presented by Young stated that South Stormont would have the largest population of six municipalities that make up the county by 2031.

The presentation showed plans for attracting industry and commercial development including the township having 100 acres of land ready for development in the provincial Certified Site/Investment Ready Program. A similarly ready site was sold by Edwardsburgh-Cardinal in 2015 for a new Giant Tiger distribution center, slated for completion in 2017.

Young also spoke of the economic hit the township would take should the proposed closure proceed.

“There would be a 7.5-million-dollar annual impact to the economy,” stated Young.

South Stormont commissioned Doyletech Consulting to study the impact of the proposed school closures to the community; this report was presented to council January 13th.

Young presented statistics on similarly sized municipalities in Eastern Ontario and near Northern Ontario citing that out of 45 municipalities with a population greater than 10,000 people, only one does not have a secondary school located in it.

“We see it as an essential service having a high school,” said Young.

“Don’t make us the largest municipality without a high school.”

During a public statement period at the end of the meeting, several audience members stated their support for the schools in South Stormont.

Travis Froats, an R-O Alumni, spoke of the ‘Making it Real’ partnership between R-O secondary and the St. Lawrence Parks Commission.

“The students there [at R-O] are a team; they understand teamwork,” said Froats.

“They are big fish in a smaller sea, the kids are more comfortable and able to thrive,” he added.