“We really appreciate that we still have a high school in Meaford.”
That was the sentiment expressed by Geoff Hogan, the chair of the Georgian Bay Secondary School (GBSS) Community Council at a presentation by the Bluewater District School Board Dec. 7.
About 70 people attended the public meeting, which didn’t allow for any questions from the floor. Instead, participants had been asked to register to appear as a delegation at least a week prior to the meeting.
That made it difficult to judge the public reaction to the presentation, although the information had been previously released to the public. The audience showed little initial reaction to the presentation by the board representatives.
The board is recommending the closure of Meaford Community School in favour of consolidating students at St. Vincent-Euphrasia Elementary School and GBSS.
Currently, there are excess capacity at all three schools, but combining the students would alleviate much of that excess capacity.
The proposal would see the early grades (up to Grade 3) attend St. Vincent-Euphrasia, while students from grade 4 – 12 attend GBSS.
St. Vincent-Euphrasia is currently at 80 per cent capacity, while Meaford Community School is at 72 per cent. At 43 per cent, GBSS is the lowest-ranked of the three for capacity.
That kind of under-utilization inevitably leads to cost concerns and fiscal inefficiency, board officials told the audience.
All of the schools require millions of dollars in maintenance and upgrades, the officials said in the presentation, while enrolment continues to decline.
The board is advocating for the eventual construction of a so-called “superschool” for Meaford that would host all grades, similar to Peninsula Shores in the South Bruce Peninsula.
Hogan spent more of his time asking for the board to improve the curriculum offered at the schools, particularly GBSS, to retain students who now flow to Collingwood or in to Owen Sound rather than discussing the amalgamation of the schools.
He said the curriculum being offered is limited enough, especially for specialty items including French immersion, that there is a ‘brain drain’ of students to other schools that offer what the students are looking for. High school students in French immersion currently attend school in Owen Sound.
After the meeting concluded, Hogan said people in Meaford are trying to make the best of a bad situation.
“I think the recommendations are fairly clear,” he said. “I think we’re OK with them. They’ve outlined the process and I think it’s going to go pretty much as expected. We’re just really happy we still have a high school here and our kids don’t have to go to Flesherton or Owen Sound to go to high school.”
“The kids need more choice to really have a broad education,” Hogan added. “But the funding formula ties (the school’s) hands. There’s not really much we can do about the funding formula and how it treats rural schools.”
Anyone interested in commenting on the process can do so in a written submission, or could ask to appear as a delegation to a board meeting.
Board officials said they hope to be making at least a preliminary decision by March of 2016.