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School board chair gives SCITS a thumbs down

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Cathy Dobson

SCITS should be closed to save money and ensure all students get a quality education, says the chairperson of Lambton Kent District School Board.

“I’ve heard a lot of passion but, in my personal opinion, the information favours closure of SCITS,” Jane Bryce told The Journal.

Administrators are recommending the consolidation of SCITS and St. Clair Secondary and the blended student body moved to the St. Clair site.

If the plan proceeds, St. Clair would be renovated next year and a new name chosen for the combined school.

According to board staff, merging the two half-empty schools would save $1.1 million the first year.

“I love the building,” said Bryce. “But that’s not why I’m a trustee.”

Provincial funding formulas are changing and declining enrolment means fewer dollars to educate students. She said.

“We need to make rapid changes and, if we can’t, every student’s program choices and quality education is going to be affected. We have no choice but to make decisions based on finances.

“If we don’t, there goes your equity and there goes your fantastic education experience for every student in Lambton-Kent, from Wheatley to Sarnia.”

The impending closure has sparked an emotional debate, pitting the two school populations against each another, and brought a recommendation from the City of Sarnia to spare SCITS and close St. Clair.

Trustees will make a final decision May 10 at Alexander Mackenzie Secondary School.

Bryce said “a lot is being made” about the number of trustees who live outside Sarnia and who may not understand SCITS’ value to the community.

“It’s hurtful,” said the trustee for North Lambton. “Those people aren’t listening with trustee’s ears and they haven’t taken an interest in all the caring decisions we’ve made before.

“The people fighting to keep SCITS open are pleading for a building and the memories they have. They forget that trustees are responsible for giving every student in the system a good educational experience and that we are passionate too for the kids to be successful.

“We don’t close schools. We close buildings,” Bryce added.

Jane Bryce
Jane Bryce

Board administrators have been accused of providing inaccurate numbers to bolster the case for closing SCITS.  But Bryce disagreed.

“As chair and as a trustee, I will say we have the utmost confidence in the integrity of our staff,” she said.  “Otherwise they wouldn’t be our staff.

“We ask them questions. We hold them to account and I’m confident in our director and staff.”

However, Bryce did question administration’s decision to state provincial funding will be sought for new amenities at St. Clair to replace those lost when SCITS closes.

At last week’s board meeting, trustees heard from local businessman Louie Mele who made the case to keep SCITS based on the replacement cost of its six-lane indoor pool, sports field, gymnasium and 850-seat theatre.

Mele estimated at least $14.6 million is needed to replicate the existing facilities.

“I really don’t know how to comment on that,” said Bryce. “I think perhaps the board should not have looked at enhancing St. Clair.

“We have all these engineering reports and inspections and we now know that we’ll have to spend $3 million to upgrade the stairwells and dead-end corridors and bring them up to standard. That is very concerning.”

Change is coming no matter what, Bryce added.

“In my heart, I wish parents could model good acceptance of change for their children and their students. When parents become extremely upset with change, their children see that.”

Trustees will hear from delegations related to the school closure on April 26 before holding the final vote.

The votes of 11 trustees will be counted on May 10. Of those, four live in Sarnia. The votes of two student trustees are not included in the official count.

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