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Opposition to school closures impressive fight: professor


CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. — The opposition to proposed school closures in P.E.I. seems to have more polish than past resistance, says an economic observer.

Jim Sentance.

“They certainly do seem to be more organized this time,’’ says Jim Sentance, associate professor in the department of economics at UPEI.

“I think some of it is people are a little more media savvy and realize you may be able to mobilize and motivate people a little more easily.’’

Earlier this month, the Public Schools Branch report recommended closure of Georgetown Elementary, Belfast Consolidated, St. Louis Elementary, Bloomfield and St. Jean Elementary.

Parents of students in these schools, as well as other members of the schools’ communities, are fighting back with impressive collective resolve.

A group called The United Home and Schools of West Prince took out a large advertisement in The Guardian presenting a detailed argument for keeping Bloomfield and St. Louis elementary schools open.

Among the points raised in the ad is that operational costs for the two schools accounts for only 0.1 per cent of the Department of Education, Early Learning and Culture budget of $252 million.

An Island-wide rally focusing on “vision for education’’ is set for Feb. 2 at 7 p.m. at Kinkora Regional.

One of the organizers, Janet Payne, president of the Kinkora Regional High School Council, hopes “government will hear the message loud and clear that closing small schools is unacceptable and the school change process is simply not working.’’

Millefiore Clarkes of Belfast has made a professional video that highlights many points being raised across the province in defence of keeping rural schools open.

The video, which had 11,000 views as of Friday afternoon, shows families rallying to stop the proposed school closures.

To the music of Paper Lions (band members attended Belfast Consolidated), the following points scrawl across the screen to encourage building up, rather than tearing down, schools:

-- Because healthy rural communities make a healthy province.

-- Because young families are staying in rural communities.

-- Because with a little vision schools could include daycares, adult education facilities and community libraries.

“I think it’s a very short-sighted decision (to close schools),’’ says Clarkes.

Clarkes, who owns and operates the production company One Thousand Flowers Productions, put the video together – and is working on a second one -- in hopes to help keep Belfast open.

She would like to stay put in the community and see her two-year-old son Henry attend her former school in a few years.
“It is quite a vibrant community,’’ she says.

Sentence says Islanders are sending a strong message that schools, regardless of the number of students attending, play a critical role in rural development.

“It is fairly clear these people are not going to give up,’’ he adds.

He says government will pay a political price for closing all or even some of the schools.

“I think they will probably suffer a bit,’’ he says.

“Whether it is enough to lose power is another matter.’’

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