Cabinet shuffle could be positive for NDSS battle

By Penny Coles, Niagara Advance

Councillor Gary Zalepa Jr.

Councillor Gary Zalepa Jr.

The committee preparing to plead their case to save Niagara District Secondary School to the province is hoping a recent cabinet shuffle may work to their advantage.

Councillor Gary Zalepa Jr. says the new education minister, Leona Dombrowsky, former minister of agriculture and rural affairs, is no stranger to rural communities and the specific issues they face.

While Kathleen Wynne, who was moved from the education portfolio, was familiar with the situation facing NOTL's only high school, Dombrowsky, elected MPP from a largely rural area, can be expected to understand NDSS challenges, he said.

Dombrowsky was also involved in a survey conducted by the province recently to gather information about municipalities developing partnerships with school boards.

"She's no stranger to education issues, and she has a good grasp of rural issues. That could be helpful to us," said Zalepa.

"That's just my take on the cabinet shuffle, but I'm viewing this as something that could be positive for us."

Zalepa is hoping MPP Kim Craitor, who has promised to help the NDSS committee take their case to the province, will be able to set up a meeting with the new education minister by late February.

Zalepa and a committee of NDSS supporters have prepared a brief that lists 10 points recapping events, going back to the board's accommodation review of NDSS in 1999, that have led to the current situation, he says.

It includes some matters that they believe were handled improperly and that might not have met with board or provincial policy, says Zalepa.

It also compares educational services and taxes paid in neighbouring communities, he says, and makes note of the demographics in town, which an independent consulting report says points to a growing young population.

He believes the document builds a good case for a high school in NOTL, and hopes the outcome could be a new, right-sized school for 500 students.

"When you read the 10 strong points that are made you think 'how could this be happening to us'," he says.

While none of the information is new, he adds, it's the first time it has all been compiled and included in one document for people to read and "see the whole big picture."

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