News Local

ARC members confident

MIRANDA MINASSIAN, The Packet & Times

With the third of four public consultations scheduled for this week, members of the accommodation review committee (ARC) looking to save Moonstone Elementary School remain optimistic about the future.

Working on the ARC - the group charged with examining the future of Coldwater Public School, Moonstone Elementary School and Warminster Elementary School - has given Simon Kennedy hope that an alternative to closing Moonstone can be found.

"Our task is to come up with something, if not (closing the school), that is equally viable from a financial and an educational standpoint. I think that is where we are headed. I really do," said Kennedy, a parent representative on the ARC.

The committee, made up of representatives from Severn and Oro-Medonte townships, parents and the school board, is tasked with determining the value of a school to the community, students, businesses and the board.

The Simcoe County District School Board's newest capital plan, unveiled last week, once again has Moonstone on the chopping block. The ARC must provide its own recommendations to the board by March.

Also, the committee must consider enrolment at all three schools is projected to continue declining over the next five years.

"It's a tough process to go through because, in this case, you are talking about the potential closure of a school. But that is the transparency of the ARC. Staff have to talk about what they are thinking," said John Dance, superintendent of facilities and chair of the ARC. "I said to the ARC... that they have to make the best-case scenario for telling the board of trustees what you would like to see happen. It is not a guarantee... but that's what the consultation is about."

While some ARC representatives are concerned the review is giving up too much ground to the board, Kennedy said, he believes things are headed in the right direction.

"So far, we've come up with some positive recommendations. We have been able to whittle them down to something that is viable financially and from a community standpoint," he said.

After the last meeting, 11 preliminary options were identified, from realigning attendance-area borders to redistributing students and revisiting the ARC process in four to five years to leaving things status quo.

Transferring Moonstone's Grade 6 students to Coldwater Public School, which is facing declining enrolment, constructing additions to all three schools by redistributing funds and having Moonstone be a regional kindergarten and extended-day school are among the other potential options presented.

"They have been looking at it with an open mind. Specifically, Moonstone wants to stay open. They are trying to find a way to make that happen and also meet the needs of the board, being as efficient as possible," Dance said. "This ARC has focused on sitting down and working through the options."

For those who believe the ARC process doesn't have the ability to impact final decisions, Dance pointed to the case of Barrie Central Collegiate.

"Exactly what the ARC committee said, the board adopted. There are different situations and different scenarios," he said. "The ARC is a public-consultation device, not a decision-making body. The board of trustees make the decisions and staff are the people that make recommendations."

Since board staff are non-voting ARC members, the final decision on what suggestions go forward will be left to the members of the community and parents who sit on the committee.

The school board, though, has the final say on whether the school will remain open.

"There are still a number of meetings left. Nothing is written in stone at this point," Kennedy said.

The next meeting of the ARC will be held Thursday at 7 p.m. at Coldwater Public School.

mminassian@orilliapacket.com



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