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Former Public Schools Branch trustee says school closure recommendation was fair

Pat Mella has resigned from the Public Schools Branch board of directors, saying the P.E.I. government threw her under the bus.
Pat Mella - SaltWire Network

CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. - One of the three people who ultimately recommended that two schools in P.E.I. close earlier this year still believes they made a fair decision.

Pat Mella says neither she nor the other two directors – chairwoman Susan Willis and Harvey MacEwen – had anything against St. Jean Elementary School in Charlottetown and Georgetown Elementary School.

Mella said they were simply trying to do what was best for the education system as a whole.

“I think the most disappointing part was at the final (public) meeting where we disclosed our recommendations there was a large turnout of people and some were unhappy and cursing and yelling,’’ Mella said, referring to the April 3 meeting at Bluefield High School where the final verdict was delivered on the two schools.

Originally, St. Louis Elementary, Bloomfield Elementary and Belfast Consolidated Schools were also identified for possible closure but Mella and the other directors voted to reject those closures, leaving only St. Jean and Georgetown on the chopping block.

However, cabinet would make the ultimate decision.

“I felt pretty confident that we had made fair decisions. The government chose to respond without the public really having had a chance to see our recommendations and see why we had recommended certain things.’’

RELATED: School closure process chosen as The Guardian’s 2017 News Story of the Year

The former provincial minister of finance said it was hard to keep the discourse focused on education.

“Having been a teacher, I do realize there are other benefits of schools and it overlaps into communities, but at the end of the day, it is about educating the kids. You need to modernize, you need teachers, you need to have reasonable class sizes to keep up with this demanding environment that the kids are being placed in.’’

Mella said the public consultation process went well, although it was difficult at times. She believes in giving people the opportunity to speak out.

“It did lots of positive things for many schools because they became unified in their arguments about why their schools should get something or remain open. There were people, especially (from) Georgetown, that felt that the school was an intrinsic part of their community.’’

Mella also stresses that the directors’ only mandate was to look at the existing system and see if improvements could be made, not whether new schools or more teachers were needed.

As things turned out, the day after Mella and the directors announced they were recommending St. Jean and Georgetown schools for closure, Premier Wade MacLauchlan and then-education minister Doug Currie announced no schools would close.

RELATED: Pat Mella resigns from school board, saying government threw her under the bus

There are some who believe the whole school closure process was just a smokescreen, to take attention away from rezoning.

Mella isn’t buying it.

“I don’t agree with that. I do not think that. In fairness to government, I do not think that’s what their plan was. As time went on, as the debate went on, as they heard what people were saying, I think they adjusted their recommendations. They took a different path. Initially, I don’t think we were there just to rubber stamp anything, absolutely not.’’

dave.stewart@theguardian.pe.ca

Twitter.com/DveStewart

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