TRURO – All five schools that are facing closure by the school board will continue on to the next phase of the review process.
The Chignecto-Central Regional School Board is looking at potentially closing five schools in the district: Bass River Elementary, East Pictou Middle School, Maitland District Elementary School, River John Consolidated School and Wentworth Consolidated School.
Two of the schools, East Pictou Middle School and River John Consolidated, are located in Pictou County.
Each school on the chopping block formed a School Study Committee as part of the review process, which compiled a report containing information to help the board make an informed decision on whether to close the schools. The committees presented highlights of these reports to the board Thursday.
At the meeting Tuesday evening, the board passed motions to formally receive each School Study Committee’s reports and voted in favour of each of the five schools moving on to the public hearing phase of the school review process, which means all five schools could still potentially be closed by the school board.
The East Pictou Middle School Study Committee's report recommended that East Pictou Middle School remain status quo. It also recommended that if East Pictou were to continue in the School Review Process, that strong consideration be given to involving Frank H. MacDonald Elementary School in the process or in a new review where they would be the receiving school of grades 7 and 8 students and that this facility become a P-8 school in the Pictou East community.
The River John Consolidated School committee's report recommended the only viable option would be for the school to remain open.
Superintendent Gary Clarke said the board is facing financial cuts forcing it to make tough decisions in regard to school closures.
"One of the reasons I believe that we're into this review process is we got strong messages from different parts of our stakeholders that we need to look at the excess square footage in our system," he said. "I really do believe that the serious impact reductions that we've had in the last two years has caused this board to take its financial responsibility very seriously and to look at all aspects of our budget operations."
Board member Vivian Farrell said she supports the idea of the schools moving forward in the review process because it allows the board members to hear from the community and make an informed decision.
"I believe in the value of the process going forward to the end," she said. "I do believe deeply in the fact that the extra information that board members will get as they go around to these different schools and get information from the public is instrumental in us making our final decision as a board."
The public hearings will take place in the schools that are up for closure and any individual from the public can attend the hearing and address the board.
All public hearings must be held by March 24 and the board will announce when the public hearings will be held on its website and in local newspapers.
Debbie Buott-Matheson, communications manager for the board, said the board must make a decision by March 31 on whether or not the school will be closed. Following that decision, the board has a maximum of five years to shut the school down.