Council takes next step to retain local high school

By Penny Coles, Niagara Advance

If there is anyone in Niagara-on-the-Lake, with or without school-aged children, who doesn't get the importance of having a high school in town or doesn't understand how board policies have led to its looming closure, the brief prepared by the town's strategic committee is a must-read.

It isn't long (well, not too long, at 34 pages) and it makes for compelling reading.

You can't get to the end of it without being convinced the Ministry of Education must see the error of our school board's ways and jump into the fray to save our community's only high school.

The committee has managed to condense proof of more than a decade of board mismanagement, or if you believe the trustees set out 10 years ago to close NDSS, more than a decade of stealthily following a specific agenda, through two flawed accommodation reviews, policies of courtesy busing, and entitlement to alternate home schools for siblings. These policies enriched urban school enrolment at the expense of NDSS, the brief shows.

In addition funding programs such as rural top-up grants, Prohibitive to Repair and Good Places to Learn funding, which could have been available to keep NDSS up to current standards, were spent elsewhere, again to satisfy urban schools.

The brief not only makes these claims but provides documentation to back them up, much of it paid for through freedom of information requests.

"It is estimated that in the past three fiscal years, Niagara District SS has earned the school board at least $1.5 million," the brief states. From the present condition of the school, it says, "it appears the grants were not meeting 'their intended purpose'."

In the last three years, private citizens and private funds have attracted great opportunities for NDSS students and could have succeeded, but all efforts, the brief shows, were met with barriers from the board.

The brief, supported by the council of NOTL, petitions the Ministry of Education to mandate collaboration between school boards and municipalities, and in the absence of that relationship, to stay the closure of NDSS and counsel the school board to build a new, environmentally friendly, right-sized secondary school in NOTL.

The Catholic school board and the Eden community appear to see this petition as a threat, rather than an opportunity for all students of NOTL to have the same choices they offer their students. It's a shame they see the brief as an attack on their organizations, rather than a compilation of facts regarding District School Board of Niagara policies that have led to the current unacceptable situation.

It would have been encouraging to have their support. But with or without it, council has taken the necessary next step. It's difficult to imagine the ministry not paying heed, and impossible to imagine the actual closure of NDSS.

It's been said all along failure is not an option. Let's hope the province sees it the same way.

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