Dawn-Euphemia politicians want say if public board looks at closure of community’s only school

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Dawn-Euphemia Mayor Al Broad says small communities have to have a say in the closure of schools.

But his idea of how that should happen isn’t being accepted by the local public school board.

The province recently allowed school boards to change the way they decide to close a school with low enrollment. The province would allow fewer public consultations and shortens the timeframe in which a school can be closed. It also gives little weight to what the municipal government has to say on the issue.

Dawn-Euphemia Council is closely watching as the Lambton-Kent District School Board changes its policy. It’s concerned about the only elementary school left in the community, which has just over 100 students.

In a report to council, Administrator Michael Schnare points out the local board has adopted the shortest timelines for the process.

It also rejected the idea of having a municipal official on the Accommodation Review Committee – if it is ever formed. In a letter to the council, Director of Education Jim Costello says the board is committed to consulting with the community but the board didn’t see it necessary to have a councillor on the review committee.

“It’s not surprising the government has allowed them to do as a little of public review as possible,” says Mayor Al Broad. He’s also not surprised the province and local boards rules do not “take into account the effect of the school on the area.”

But he doesn’t like it.

“They need to make it a public process so everyone who has the option to voice opinion,” says Broad.

“We just want a voice at the table,” he adds. “They have to think of the community side of it; what a dramatic influence closure has on the community… You’re trying to get new people or existing people to remain – (school closures) work against you.”

Broad says the township has tried to work with the school board in the past to use more of the building as public space – such as a library – but their efforts have been unsuccessful because the board was “paranoid” about after hours use of the property.

That may change as the new provincial guidelines also encourage boards to open up empty schools to public use.

Since Dawn-Euphemia councillors can’t have a voice on the local committee, they’ve joined the Community Schools Alliance. It advocates for a closer working relationship between school boards and municipal councils saying schools are “critically important components of our public infrastructure.”