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A sad end for SCITS and its supporters

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Cathy Dobson  

Defeated Save SCITS advocates say they are angry that school board vice-chair Scott McKinlay chose the final meeting to admonish them for their efforts.

“What really bothered me is the way the public was scolded,” said Susan MacKenzie, a member of the core group that fought to keep Sarnia’s oldest high school open.

“These are elected officials and Scott McKinlay’s comments were inappropriate.”

Chairman Jane Bryce should have stopped McKinlay from speaking when he spent nearly six minutes criticizing some of the parents, neighbours and students who spoke publicly about saving SCITS, said Gavin Hall, a fervent SCITS supporter.

“I am very angry with McKinlay. He should resign his position,” said Hall.  “All we did was democratically express our opinions and we were attacked.”

At a May 10 meeting attended by about 300 at Alexander Mackenzie Secondary School, trustees with the Lambton Kent District School Board voted 9-2 to close SCITS in 2017.

St. Clair students will temporarily relocate to SCITS in September to allow for renovations at the Murphy Road school, before the two schools consolidate at St. Clair the following year.

Board administrators project annual savings of $1.1 million.

As trustees took turns explaining the rationale for their vote, McKinlay directed his comments to members of the public, who he said were disrespectful.

“The integrity of every (staff) report was challenged. That bothers me terribly,” he said. “…There were those who presented very respectfully – and I would expect that – but there were a few who completely lacked integrity and added nothing to the discussion.”

McKinlay called disparaging comments about Director of Education Jim Costello “an assassination” and said every single trustee supports Costello and respects his integrity

Jim Costello
Jim Costello

The trustees’ decision to close SCITS and McKinlay’s scolding will have long-time consequences for relations with the city, predicted MacKenzie.

During the accommodation review this winter, city councillors took the unusual step of endorsing their own staff report that recommended keeping SCITS open.

“After this, I think the board is going to have difficulty with community partnerships,” she said. “SCITS had a lot of support and I think this has put a damper on those relationships.”

Trustees also voted unanimously to apply for capital funding to build a new high school for Grades 9 – 12 at the St. Clair site to replace both SCITS and St. Clair.

Costello cautioned a new school to accommodate the combined school population of approximately 1,100 would cost about $30 million and is a “longshot.”

“I don’t want to entice people with this prospect,” he said. “But why not put a bid in for a new school? The premier has a mandate to rebuild schools in Ontario and has a $500 million fund for it.

Jane Bryce
Jane Bryce

“Those are our tax dollars too.”

HOW TRUSTEES VOTED ON SCITS’ CLOSURE:

Chair Jane Bryce – YES – “I know in my heart this is the way it should go. I know Sarnia will be just like other school consolidations in the sense that there will be a coming together.”

Vice-chair Scott McKinlay – YES – “It’s a beautiful building. I acknowledge that. But I do not believe it’s the mandate of this board to maintain heritage buildings.”

Dave Douglas – YES – “It’s a sad night for the city of Sarnia…but bricks and mortar don’t drive student achievement.”

Bob Murphy – YES – “It’s a tough decision for the community and trustees as well.”

Elizabeth Hudie – NO – “SCITS is architecturally superior…and St. Clair will likely sell more quickly.”

Lareina Rising – NO – “The biggest factor is we have no guarantee that we’ll get the grant (to improve St. Clair). We should not be a throwaway culture. The SCITS building is something we should showcase for years to come.”

Tom McGregor – YES – “I believe it’s our responsibility to strip away the emotion.”

Shannon Sasseville – YES – “I can’t ignore the fact the costs at SCITS are higher. This is one of the toughest decisions I’ve had to make.”

Jack Fletcher – YES – “My concern is health and safety.”

Randy Campbell – YES – “We’re in the business of educating students, not maintaining heritage buildings.”

Ruth Ann Dodman – YES – “I became a trustee to see that children get the best education possible.”

 

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