Stephen Fields

Town looks to arbitration to settle dispute with WECDSB over St. Bernard School

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

Frustrated over talks to buy the former St. Bernard School, the town of Amherstburg is looking to have the matter settled by an arbitrator.

As the result of an in-camera session Monday night, town council agreed to have CAO John Miceli pursue the matter as the town and the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board have been unable to finalize what the fair market value for the former school building, located at 320 Richmond St., should be

The town has been looking to purchase the school building after it was declared surplus by the Catholic school board, said Miceli, with the intention of using it as a “community hub” centred around senior citizens.

Miceli said the WECDSB’s counteroffer to the town was $100,000 more than the $650,000 that the board had it appraised at. A subsequent offer came in at $25,000 higher than the appraisal.

“It’s been extremely exhausting working with the Catholic school board. When you look at bargaining in good faith between public entities, I find this very difficult especially when there’s a community use and a community benefit,” Miceli stated.

The town is interested in purchasing the former St. Bernard School but are locked in a dispute with the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board on what the fair market value is.

The CAO believes there is “a total disregard for the town of Amherstburg and its residents.”

A master seniors plan has been included in the 2018 budget, Miceli noted, and the community hub proposed for the site would help to address seniors needs and issues.

“All of the plans we have for the property are supported by our community strategic plan,” said Miceli.

The town is trying to protect the ratepayers of Amherstburg through this process, he added, with both he and Mayor Aldo DiCarlo pointing out the property has been public for years with public tax dollars maintaining it. Miceli added the town is taking “a very strategic approach” to acquiring the land and has followed the process “to a T.”

There is a plan on how to fund its purchase, should it occur, he added but couldn’t release it at the present time as there are other issues in play that can’t be disclosed publicly at this point. He did state there are “synergies” between the proposal for the St. Bernard School site and the possibility of a new public high school being built next door at Centennial Park.

“As soon as the school became available, we came up with a plan to benefit the community,” said DiCarlo. “We found a way to re-purpose (the school building) so it can continue to be beneficial to the community.”

DiCarlo said it has been a “frustrating” process in working with the Catholic board and trying to realize the town’s vision for the property.

Stephen Fields, communications co-ordinator with the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board, said the Education Act calls for property matters to be discussed by the committee of the whole board and stay confidential.

“As a rule, we do not discuss property matters in public,” said Fields. “Those are the guidelines we operate by.”

Asked for reaction on the town’s stance on the matter, Fields reiterated the board does not comment on property matters.

“There’s a process for all negotiations and we followed the process,” said Fields. “Part of the process is maintaining confidentiality.”

Local man donates AED units to school boards after losing father

 

 

By Jolene Perron

A total of 27 AED units were donated to the local school boards, in hopes to assist in saving someone’s life.

An AED, or automated external defibrillator, is a portable device that can check the heart rhythm and can send an electric shock to the heart to try to restore a normal rhythm. The units may be used to treat sudden cardiac arrest.

Frank Cremasco, who owns Cremasco Fine Cabinetry in LaSalle lost his father about a year ago while he was playing bocce ball.

John Picco (left), a local firefighter and representative of Second Chance CPR shows the AED device with Frank Cremasco at their unveiling Sept. 27. (Special to the RTT)

“Frank couldn’t help but thinking if there was an AED was on site there, perhaps his father may still be with us,” said Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board communications coordinator Stephen Fields. “He felt he wanted to do something proactive and turn a bad experience into a positive one, so he spearheaded a fundraising campaign and has donated to both school boards a total of 27 AED units, 10 of them are going to the Windsor Essex Catholic District School Board. One of them is going to be located here at the board office and the other nine are going to be going into all of our secondary schools.”

According to Fields, the units can cost anywhere from $2,400 to $2,500. Considering the amount of people using their schools at any given time, Fields feels as though this will give those people in their buildings a sense of reassurance knowing these units could be just a few steps away.

AED units are safe and simple to use, according to the Heart and Stroke foundation’s website. After they have been turned on, someone can simply follow the voice prompts which tell the user everything they need to do, and it will not deliver a shock unless necessary.

“We are extremely grateful to Mr. Cremasco for everything that he has done,” said Fields. “It should provide a lot of piece of mind for some people and we are extremely grateful that he went to the time and the effort to spearhead this effort and bring this level of safety into our schools.”

New school year officially underway

 

 

By Jolene Perron

 

Buses, enrollment and education, oh my!

The 2017-18 school year has officially kicked off, and both of the school boards as well as Sharp Bus Lines are gearing up for what they plan to be another fantastic year.
“We’ve seen a lot of growth in French Immersion, especially at St. Joseph in River Canard, as well as in our International Baccalaureate programs (at Assumption and Cardinal Carter) and academy programs,” explained Stephen Fields, communications coordinator for the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board. “In fact, we now have 457 students in our sports academies. The really nice thing about the growth in French Immersion at St. Joseph is that, as we add new grades for those students as they advance, they will be able to go directly into the Villanova French Immersion program after completing elementary school, which will help solidify the high school’s French program.”

 

 

Fields went on to say they have done some hiring in the elementary and secondary panels, as well as make additions to their occasional teachers list. Last spring they also announced the creation of a new construction academy at St. Joseph’s Catholic High School in Windsor, which will see 20 new students starting there in September. The goal is to help address a skills gap in local trades. Additionally, they are launching a new STREAM – Science, Technology, Religion, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics- Academy at Holy Names. They currently have about 65 students registered.

“At Villanova, we continue to build on the strengths of our very successful robotics team, which performed admirably in both national and international competitions last year,” said Fields. “We received some new funding to create an Apple Mac lab there, which really enhances our existing computer tech courses, where students are doing coding and building apps within the context of those courses. This will really provide a great foundation for these students as they move into post secondary education and eventually, related careers. This is also connected to the coding programs that are being integrated into our elementary curriculum at St. Joseph and Stella Maris.”

In the public school board, public relations officer Scott Scantlebury said after years of declining enrolment, they have finally stabilized, particularly at the secondary level. There has been some hiring of teachers over the past couple years, however, Scantlebury said they will have a better idea what their needs are for this year once they see enrolment numbers. As for major development, Scantlebury noted their new cloud-based learning program – Edsby.

“After piloting the system at a number of schools, this year parents at all schools in the Board will be able to sign up and have real-time communication with teachers and track their student’s academic achievement, attendance, etc.,” said Scantlebury. “It’s a great tool for parent engagement and involvement. As well we have expanded the access to the elementary literacy programs Lexia and Empower…we’ve seen, where it’s been used, positive impacts on kids’ reading levels, especially with students who were struggling with literacy. We also have changed the way we deliver English as a Second Language in elementary schools. Students will now receive the program at their home schools rather than at a central site, before graduating to their home school.”

 

Grade 9 orientation at General Amherst High School featured fun activities.

As for the location of the new school, Scantlebury said they have not finalized their plans. Their original projections, which he said they have discussed at the funding announcement for the opening, are still the same. Once the board has a site, a design and approval from the Ministry of Education, the construction will be tendered, which Scantlebury said takes about 14-16 months to build a school once work begins.

Not only are the school boards gearing up for the school year, but Sharp Bus Lines has been preparing as well and is asking a few things from students, parents and motorists.

“Students should arrive at their bus stops 10 minutes prior to pick up time,” said Crystal Williamson, regional manager for Sharp Bus Lines. “Wait at your designated stop in a safe spot, standing back from the curb or roadside yet visible to your bus driver, always remember to stay away from the danger zones outside of the bus, if required to cross watch for your driver to signal it’s safe to do so not before this and the crossing gate extended as well as the overheads and stop arm activated.”

Williamson said they are also asking motorists to keep in mind that school is back in session and asks them to slow down and be very cautious when approaching stopped school buses because “a child who may be running late for their stop could appear out of nowhere and cross the street.”

Over the summer, Williamson they have been preparing by taking all of the buses into the shop for the mechanics to go through, making sure the fleet of buses are safe for the students. The routes are checked for directional errors and timing, to ensure everyone arrives safely and in a timely fashion. Additionally, drivers come in to cover off refreshers and go over new routes.

“We love kids,” said Williamson. “Patience and kindness are the major things that we look for in our drivers.  Children have bad days just like adults so sometimes we need to cut them some slack.  We have hired/trained 8 new drivers over the summer and we are always looking for those special individuals to fill the seat.  As we always tell our drivers – they may be the first smile a child sees in the morning.  Make their day.”

So whether you’re a new or returning student, a parent, or even a fellow motorist, school is back in session and both the school boards, as well as Sharp Bus Lines hope everyone has a safe and happy 2017-18 school year.

Catholic school remaining open despite support worker strike

 

By Ron Giofu

Schools within the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board (WECDSB) will remain open despite a strike impacting custodial, secretarial, maintenance, information technology and campus ministry staff members.

The strike began Monday morning.

“From administration’s point of view, our plan is to keep the schools open for the duration,” said Stephen Fields, communications coordinator with the WECDSB. “Students will be in the classroom learning, as they should be.”

The WECDSB has been alerting parents and students about the work stoppage, urging patience and safety.

“They can expect there will be delays as they will encounter picket lines when they go to the schools,” said Fields.

The Catholic board is asking that people remain respectful and composed during the strike. He said the board doesn’t want to discuss the issues publicly at this stage, but stated claims that the board doesn’t want to work towards and agreement as “patently false.” Fields told the River Town Times last Friday afternoon that a proposal was tabled by the board seven days earlier and had yet to receive a written response.

“We’re willing to talk at a moment’s notice,” said Fields.

Administration and management will try to cover off duties at the schools that are performed usually by the striking workers, he added.

“We’ll have our resources deployed at our schools to make sure things get done,” said Fields. “It’s not going to be easy but we’re pledging to keep the schools open for the duration.”
That could mean principals will have to perform some extra duties, he added.

Fields said the Catholic board is trying to reassure parents that their children can come to school but to be respectful and calm if they encounter any picket lines.

catholicschoolboard

“This action is not directed at students, their families or the community, our picket lines will not prevent or delay students from entering the schools,” Unifor Local 2458 president Bruce Dickie stated in a press release.

Unifor Local 2458 states it represents 370 workers and states that parents, guardians and students will be allowed direct access for drop-off and pick-up. The union states “strike action follows years of failed negotiations with WECDSB. Two bargaining units represent the support workers. Both groups voted overwhelmingly to support a strike.”

Dickie told the River Town Times Monday morning one of the issues is when the starting point is of a collective agreement. A negotiated contract expired in 2012 but a new contract was imposed through the Putting Students First Act last through 2014. Dickie said that deal was taken to court and it was ruled unconstitutional, but a sticking point in current negotiations is whether the two sides are looking at the 2012 agreement or the 2014 agreement.

Dickie added that the board wants something out of every article in the agreements, something the union opposes. According to Dickie, the WECDSB also wants out of the benefit business and wants benefits offered through a trust.

“We want no part of a benefit trust,” he said.

A union local in Thunder Bay reached an agreement without a benefit trust part of that agreement.

“It has been extremely, extremely complex,” Dickie said of negotiations.

Benefits and sick time are issues, the latter having been “decimated” in recent years. He said the union would like to go into binding arbitration but claimed the school board “flatly rejected” that. He added a conciliator and the union is actually waiting for a response from the Catholic board.

“We made it clear we are willing to go back on a moment’s notice and we’ve been awaiting a call from the very beginning. We are not getting a response,” he said.

Dickie said the union hopes people will not do their work as that will make the strike longer and encourages people to speak with trustees and board administration.

“It’s not going to be an easy round of bargaining, for sure,” said Dickie. “There’s no question it’s going to be a long strike.”

Town, WECDSB “iron out” traffic study issues, Stella Maris construction soon to begin

 

By Ron Giofu

 

Construction on a four-classroom addition at Stella Maris School could start as soon as early next week after issues relating to the traffic study were “ironed out.”

Stephen Fields, communication co-ordinator with the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board, said the board is pleased to have satisfied the needs of what the town was looking for and said construction could start as soon as Monday.

“The goal is to have the bus bay and parking lot done by the start of school,” said Fields, noting that is weather permitting.

The four-classroom addition should be done by October or November, he added. While there will be students housed temporarily in the gymnasium during construction, Fields said Stella Maris has a good principal in Sophie DiPaolo and that the board is confident she will do everything possible to ensure the comfort of the students and staff.

“I’m sure she’ll work with staff and students to make sure they are accommodated properly,” said Fields. “There’s going to be creative solutions so the students get their daily physical activity and to ensure they get all their academic requirements met.”

Once the addition is complete, “we will have a really great school for the community,” said Fields. He hopes parents and students will be patient as the consolidation of Stella Maris and St. Bernard School comes together.

Stella Maris School

Stella Maris School

Town council delayed approval of the site plan last Monday and designated authority to execute the site plan to CAO John Miceli and director of planning, development and legislative Mark Galvin. The town’s concerns centered around busing and the “assumption that 100 per cent of the St. Bernard students will ride the bus, representing full compliance.” That concern was relayed as part of an administrative report to town council which added that current Stella Maris compliance was 60 per cent. Administration also wanted further validation of the number of buses that would be needed to accommodate all students.

Miceli confirmed that the town was in receipt of additional information from the board and the board’s consultants with Galvin indicating mid-week that the situation was “close to being ironed out.” Galvin said the town had to look over the information but believed the situation was soon to be remedied.

“I don’t expect it’s going to take more than a few days,” he said. “We’ve been working very closely together (with the board). We’re working very hard to get it finished.”