Sparse attendance at public meeting regarding St. Bernard-Stella Maris consolidation plans

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

Administration from the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board laid out the plans for the possible St. Bernard-Stella Maris consolidation last Wednesday night but few people from the public were there to hear it.

Roughly 10-12 people from the general public turned out to the public meeting Wednesday night in the theatre at St. Thomas of Villanova Secondary School. Despite the low turnout, board officials said they weren’t taken aback by the attendance and noted people will still have opportunities to comment.

Approximately 10-12 members of the general public attended a public consultation meeting Jan. 20 at St. Thomas of Villanova Secondary School regarding the proposed consolidation of St. Bernard School and Stella Maris School. The next meeting will allow residents to address trustees and that will occur Feb. 29 at 7 p.m. and also be at Villanova.

Approximately 10-12 members of the general public attended a public consultation meeting Jan. 20 at St. Thomas of Villanova Secondary School regarding the proposed consolidation of St. Bernard School and Stella Maris School. The next meeting will allow residents to address trustees and that will occur Feb. 29 at 7 p.m. and also be at Villanova.

“I wasn’t terribly surprised,” said Stephen Fields, communications coordinator with the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board (WECDSB).

A staff report on the possible elementary school consolidation will be posted on the WECDSB’s website Feb. 9 with a board of trustees delegation meeting scheduled for Feb. 29 at 7 p.m. back at Villanova.

If the recommendation is approved at it stands, St. Bernard would be closed and students would be consolidated at the Stella Maris site, though board officials have stated the final result can vary from what was originally recommended.

“There will be other opportunities where people can speak to the board of trustees,” said Fields.

Fields added that the board cares what the public has to say and they are encouraged to attend future meetings.

“They have the opportunity to come out and tell the board what they want to see,” said Fields.

The WECSDB has also taken to social media to spread the word about the board’s recommendations with Fields stating the public is also welcome to visit the board’s website – www.wecdsb.on.ca – to gather information.

Last Wednesday night’s meeting was a public consultation session run by members of administration. The only trustee in attendance was Amherstburg/LaSalle trustee Frank DiTomasso, who sat in the audience and did not speak.

Angela Kelly, whose daughters attended St. Bernard, stated her desire that Stella Maris have the same accommodations for those with disabilities as St. Bernard. Daughter Megan has cerebral palsy and requires the use of a wheelchair with Angela and her husband Chuck working to get the necessary upgrades made to St. Bernard to ensure their daughter could be properly accommodated. She said she was happy with the responses she received, but added she still has some questions. One of the questions she posed would be if portables would be accessible, as portable classrooms are proposed should the board’s recommendation be adopted as presented.

Stella Maris principal Sophie DiPaolo was in attendance at the meeting and stated the school’s front door is accessible as well as washrooms in the primary and junior ends. Michael Seguin, a superintendent with the board, said they often overspend on accessibility matters and that the WECDSB has an “obligation to support students with special needs.”

Should St. Bernard close, Kelly said it would be sad as both daughters enjoyed their time at St. Bernard School and had “excellent educational experiences” there.

Although both daughters have since graduated, Angela said she doesn’t want to see parents have the same concerns and challenges her family did but at Stella Maris.

Colleen Norris, senior manager of human resources and policy development with the WECDSB, noted the board faces challenges due to declining enrolment and a desire from the province not to fund empty student spaces.

Both Stella Maris and St. Bernard are considered within the Ministry of Education’s “critical” classification for facility condition, she added, with both requiring capital expenditures to cover renewal costs. Both schools would cost over $7 million to replace with ten-year renewal needs for St. Bernard being over $3.5 million while Stella Maris’ needs are about $2.4 million.

Norris noted consolidation of school communities will support the WECDSB in its commitment to maximize available funding and put it towards student programming and achievement.

Enrolment at St. Bernard School is currently 171 for a 54.46 utilization rate. Stella Maris has a 94.4 per cent utilization rate with 272 students. Seguin pointed out 81 per cent of students that go to St. Bernard are walkers while 73 per cent of Stella Maris students are bused.

Consolidating the two schools could allow boundaries to be adjusted between Stella Maris and St. Joseph School in River Canard, Norris added.

Norris also encouraged the public to provide input, as she pointed out the board of trustee delegation meeting Feb. 29.

“At that time, you will be heard directly by the board,” said Norris.

The board is also open to hearing other solutions, Norris added.

“The public is welcome to provide other accommodation options,” she said, adding people are asked to provide supporting rationale for their suggestions.

A final decision is expected on the matter April 5.

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