As published in the Owen Sound Sun Times, April 14, 2016
I must admit to being new to this whole process of ARC reviews, like most parents. The original proposal that came out was for West Hill and OSCVI to become grade 7 to 12 schools. I have one daughter going into grade 7 and one going into grade 9 and the proposal sounded good to me, so I didn’t get involved because, like most parents, I was busy. We did our school tours and I was excited that my daughter chose OSCVI which has so much to offer her in this jewel of a school!
Then the party took a turn, the decision was made to propose one high school, West Hill, and remodel OSCVI for a super-elementary school. This still seemed an unlikely proposal, and like most parents, December is a crazy busy month so I didn’t have time to read further. In the New Year it became clearer that the BWDSB would only be recommending one option, not two. They would no longer recommend the 7-12 option which would keep both high schools open.
On March 23rd, a meeting was held in Chesley and members of the public were given a chance to voice their opinions as delegates. Unfortunately, the board office is out of the way for many and as fate would have it, a snowstorm ensued. Still, the room was full and 19 delegates spoke, some in favour of the recommendation and many requesting that the 7-12 model be reconsidered. Petitions were also delivered to the Board of Trustees. From the community’s point of view, there was obviously support for both options.
Yet at Tuesday night’s meeting, only one recommendation came forward: One high school in Owen Sound. As Marg Galliver (the lone Trustee who voted against the recommendation) said as part of a longer piece, “I continually hear two opposing opinions: to combine the two secondary schools into one at West Hill or to leave both secondary schools open as Grade 7 to 12 schools. The comparative percentages are difficult to determine since they are not that far apart. In other words, there is no large preference for one merged secondary school for Owen Sound.”
It is clear the community is divided on the options and that the numbers could support both options, yet only one recommendation came forward. Again, I am new to this process, but it seems to me there was enough support for both options to at least offer the Trustees a vote on both. However, that choice was not given, nor was it asked for.
Now the board can only vote for, or against, the one option. Which really isn’t a choice at all as doing nothing isn’t an option. At the end of the day the ARC committee has decided what the options will be and the trustees vote becomes mere protocol.
I continually heard from the ARC committee that this ONE recommendation had community support, but this isn’t what I’ve seen through attending meetings, reading delegate submissions, following the voices on social media. Why weren’t both options presented to the trustees? This would seem a fair and democratic process and also would let people know our voices had been heard.
I try not to be cynical, but after watching this process it’s hard not to be. I understand the business case for declining enrolment, but it’s a bit thin when we hear St. Mary’s enrolment continues to climb and they are looking to build a new school for grades 7 to 12; a model finding success across much of rural Ontario. The only one thing I’m confident about is that St. Mary’s will continue to grow and BWDSB will achieve their declining enrolment. Perhaps BWSB could sell OSCVI to St. Mary’s, and at least keep this school and its art facilities for its intended purpose?
My last hope is that since this is a “consolidation”, the OSCVI teachers and support staff have equal opportunity at the jobs at the new, yet to be named, high school.
I was going to attend the meeting next week where the vote will take place, but really, what’s the point?