Special council meeting discusses strategy to fight for NDSS

Lord Mayor Gary Burroughs, one of a group of 10 who have formed a committee to continue working to save the town's only high school, says they have no strategy yet, but will meet this week to look at options, knowing time is running out.

At a special council meeting last Thursday, council decided four town representatives would join forces with Niagara District Secondary School supporters and the Chamber of Commerce to decide how to proceed.

Councillors began their meeting with a behind-closed-doors discussion of legal options, said Burroughs.

After the confusion of several motions introduced and voted on at last June's school board meeting-with approval given to the final motion to close NDSS by August, 2010 if a target enrolment of 350 was not met by October-some trustees have questioned whether that motion was out of order and therefore not binding.

Although the board lawyer has said any question of the motion's legality should have been raised and settled that night, the town's lawyer and a lawyer who specializes in education are looking at whether there are legal avenues open to put a halt to the closure of the school, says Burroughs.

"On the legal front, we need more information, so we're in the process of getting that."

There is also the possibility of a political approach, going over the board's head to the province, or working with the Community Schools Alliance, which is asking the education minister for a moratorium on disputed school closures and more municipal input into education infrastructure decisions, says Burroughs.

He also wonders whether the board has looked at the financial implications of losing the $880,000 in rural funding they get from the ministry for NDSS-but which goes into the board's general coffers-and the increased cost of busing Niagara-on-the-Lake students to Niagara Falls or St. Catharines.

While he says he has his own thoughts about how the committee could proceed, each of the other members will also have their own ideas.

"That's the beauty of this committee. We have no pre-conceived plan. We do have 10 people with 10 preconceived ideas of what we could do, and now we have to put all that together as a group and decide where we want to go with this. It will be interesting to see how it all gels."

But the timeframe is tight-the board has already started transition planning and students are making decisions about where they will attend high school next year.

The NDSS supporters' meetings will be closed to the public, says Burroughs, so that the board is not kept in the loop of committee plans.

"There is so much anger. What they've done to us just drives me crazy."

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