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Parent feedback sought on potential closure of Huffman

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FORT FRANCES—Made up of parents, staff, community representatives, and members of the Rainy River District School Board, the Accommodation Review Committee for F.H. Huffman School hosted a public meeting Monday night to garner feedback on its possible closure.

But a lack of parent attendance had the committee wondering whether there are no concerns from the public—or if they fully understand the matter at hand.

Heather Campbell, the board’s superintendent of education, explained Huffman School, along with Robert Moore School here and Donald Young School in Emo, have been designated as “prohibitive to repair” (PTR), meaning funds would be provided to a board by the Ministry of Education to rebuild a school, rather than renovate it, where it is deemed appropriate.

“The board is looking at the possibility of consolidating Huffman, which would mean bringing it together with Robert Moore, if we were to receive funding, and then do a rebuild on the Robert Moore site,” she noted.

The process for pupil accommodation for F.H. Huffman requires a seven-month consultation period prior to the board making a decision.

The board does not have to do an Accommodation Review for Robert Moore School.

“It would just be a new school being built on the existing site,” noted Campbell. “It’s at Huffman School that if we consolidate, we would have to then close.”

Within the accommodation review timeline, the committee will hold a series of public consultations to gather feedback from the community, and work through a framework to help make recommendations to the board whether or not they should close, to consolidate, or to continue to keep Huffman open.

Monday’s meeting was the first public consultation.

Campbell went through the School Valuation Framework, which was customized by the ARC to provide data and information in four main areas: value to the student, value to the school system, value to the community, and value to the local economy.

“But the value to the student is our number-one priority,” stressed board chair Dan Belluz.

The framework answered questions such as what programs are offered at Huffman, what kinds of information technology are available, and whether the school has the capacity and numbers to support staff positions within the school.

With a current enrolment of 88 students, the ministry funds just a half-time principal but the board offers extra funds for a full-time principal.

The board formula on square footage calculates a 0.74 FTE (full-time equivalent) custodian, but provides additional funds for a 1.0 FTE custodian for the school.

The framework regarding value to the student also addressed appropriate space, accessibility, and security.

As well, it took into account the impact on the capacity of the system to offer programs in certain areas if Huffman closes (value to the school system) and how a closure would affect other community activities being held at the school (value to the community).

The Northwestern Health Unit’s immunization clinic held once a year is the only use of the building in the evening or on weekends.

“The value to the local economy remains open for public input,” Belluz said.

Through data, it also was shown that there is a declining enrolment at Huffman, with an estimate of just 70 students to attend there in 2012.

The committee also looked at the budget, which shows Huffman is operating annually at a deficit of more than $200,000.

One parent on the ARC asked whether consolidation with Robert Moore meant having a better facility, but at the price of larger class sizes.

He explained provincial test scores have been high at Huffman, which he believes is due to the small classes and more individualized attention.

“I want the best for my child,” he noted, adding perhaps additional money needed to operate the school on a surplus could be found elsewhere in the community.

Campbell explained there are class-size caps, as well as a favourable student/teacher ratio when students are grouped by level, as opposed to grade or age.

Another committee member indicated with the declining enrolment, it might not be worth keeping the small school open.

Three more public consultations are scheduled for Jan. 15, Feb. 12, and April 8 at 6:30 p.m. in the gymnasium at Huffman School.

The ARC hopes parents and members of the community will participate in the meetings to offer input, or ask questions, in order to help make the committee make a solid recommendation to the board.

For more information, guidelines, agendas, minutes, and the framework are available at www.rrdsb.com

There also is a feedback form available.

(Fort Frances Times)

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