[“if at first you don’t succeed, try and try again” to close it – not keep it open]
Waterloo [Ontario, Canada] Region Record
By Luisa D’Amato
Tiny St. Agatha Catholic elementary school has dodged two bullets in six years. But the brass at the Catholic board are determined to kill it. So they’re using bigger guns, and sketchy tactics to prep the crowd.
This school is the smallest in the Catholic system, with 96 students. After years of neglect from board officials, it needs $2 million in renovations. But it is loved by students and parents.
Two years ago, trustees voted to keep the school going. Yesterday, parents in the area got a letter saying that “new information has come forward.” As a result, trustees will consider on Monday a recommendation to start a “closure review.”
The word “review” sounds as if people will be listened to, so let’s be clear.
The recommendations to trustees have already been written. They all call for closing St. Agatha, and sending the students either to Holy Rosary in Waterloo, St. Clement in St Clements, or dividing them between the two.
Board officials are supposed to wait five years before trying again to get a school closed. If there are special circumstances they can revisit the situation earlier.
The “new information” isn’t new. Some of it isn’t even true.
When they decided to keep St. Agatha open in 2014, trustees told staff to propose building a new school, which would be called St. Agatha, somewhere in Wilmot Township. The school wouldn’t be closed, they decided, but it could be moved.
This week’s letter to parents says that “lack of residential development growth in Wilmot Township means there will be no provincial funding to construct a new school for the foreseeable future.”
What can they possibly be talking about?
Statistics Canada and the Region of Waterloo show robust residential growth in the township, which had 17,700 residents in 2006, and 19,613 in 2011. By 2031, according to Waterloo Region’s official plan, it will have 28,500 residents.
Wilmot Mayor Les Armstrong told me he didn’t know where board staff were getting their information.
“They obviously haven’t verified (it) with our staff,” he told me. “There is development going on and we expect more.”
There are more sketchy tactics. The letter was sent to parents at St. Agatha, St. Clements and Holy Rosary. But they were different letters.
Only the Holy Rosary parents were told that the Ministry of Education has provided funding for a wing of their school to be removed, to reduce the number of empty classrooms.
“Demolition of a portion of the school can be avoided by redirecting students from St. Agatha to Holy Rosary,” the letter says.
What a callous way to divide and conquer.
I asked board officials for comment and got no response, except from John Shewchuk, chief managing officer. He was taking a vacation day but sent me this email when I asked how staff figured there would not be growth in Wilmot:
“Nothing for next 8-10 years. Have to spend 2 Mil in interim with no guarantee actual subdivisions will be registered.”
Board officials seem to have undermined the instructions that elected officials gave them in 2014.
An election later that year removed some trustees who supported the school. Maybe staff think they can get the closure through now.
Maybe they think the short notice of the meeting, and the fact that it’s in summer, when people are paying less attention, will bring less response.
This is no way to run a democratic institution.