News

Public board defers decision on accommodation report until next month

 

General Amherst High School is operating at 59 per cent capacity, according to statistics released by the Greater Essex County District School Board.

General Amherst High School is operating at 59 per cent capacity, according to statistics released by the Greater Essex County District School Board.

Western Secondary School has just over 300 students and the Greater Essex County District School Board states it is operating at 50 per cent capacity.

Western Secondary School has just over 300 students and the Greater Essex County District School Board states it is operating at 50 per cent capacity.

By Ron Giofu

 

The Greater Essex County District School Board has deferred making a decision on the annual accommodation and capital planning report until Dec. 9 with that report recommending accommodation reviews for two local high schools.

Both General Amherst High School and Western Secondary School would face accommodation reviews should the board adopt the recommendations from its administration. Both schools are under capacity with a report presented by superintendent Todd Awender at the board’s meeting last Tuesday night suggesting that likely won’t change anytime soon.

Awender said in his report that there are nearly 600 empty spaces in the General Amherst “family of school,” which includes feeder schools Amherstburg Public, Anderdon Public and Malden Central Public School. He indicated that “grade restructuring, consolidation of schools or boundary changes may be potential solutions.”

The report also stated that renewal needs for General Amherst will be over $30 million within five years and predicted there will be a decline in enrolment at General Amherst over the next ten years to where “the school’s utilization rate will hover around 50 per cent.”

General Amherst is at 59 per cent capacity with enrolment dropping from 856 in 2010 to 678.5 this year.

Awender stated census statistics show that Amherstburg has seen a 12.1 per cent drop in residents ages 0-14 and a 1.7 per cent drop in residents ages 15-64, with a 22.6 per cent increase in citizens ages 65-and-over.

Amherstburg Public School’s student population is projected to decrease over the next decade with utilization rates to drop to less than 75 per cent over that period. Within five years, renewal needs will be over $7.3 million. Anderdon Public School “continues to operate at a high utilization rate,” the report states. Enrolment is expected to stabilize over the next decade but renewal needs will be over $5.8 million. Anderdon experienced a “substantial” increase in enrolment due to the closure of St. Theresa School in 2012, with Malden Central Public School also seeing an increase in enrolment that summer as well.

However, the accommodation report states that Malden Central’s enrolment has “declined significantly over the last two years” with full-day kindergarten alleviating some of the capacity pressure with the approval of capital investment. “A significant decrease in enrolment over the next ten years is projected,” the report indicates, adding there will be $3.5 million in renewal needs in the next five years.

“With a small student population and the surrounding schools having significant space not utilized, the exploration of possible school consolidation is warranted,” the report states.

Amherstburg Public School is at 82 per cent capacity with Anderdon being at 106 per cent capacity in its building and at 94 per cent when the on-site portables are incorporated and Malden Central is at 91 per cent enrolment.

“It appears that this family of schools is holding its own,” the report states. “However, within five years renewal needs will exceed $46.6 million. With the projected significant renewal needs and the future projected empty spaces, evaluation of this family of schools will be necessary in the near future.”

Western Secondary is at roughly 50 per cent capacity. It is the Greater Essex County District School Board’s only vocational school since Century closed as a vocational school in June with those students having the option of attending the new Westview Freedom Academy and accessing its adaptive basic programs or attending their neighbourhood school where “locally developed courses are being offered.”

The accommodation report noted Century had a declining pattern of enrolment projected with Western demonstrating a similar pattern. Western’s enrolment rates are projected to “hover around 50 per cent” over the next decade. Specialized programs similar to what Western offers are being offered at other high schools, the report suggested enrolment “may experience a significant decline as the appropriate courses are being offered in the student’s neighbourhood school.”

Aging infrastructure, along with enrolment challenges, are issues board-wide with Awender noting that while strides have been made in terms of the number of older buildings the board has, more issues remain.

“Our board is currently comprised of 76 buildings, 71 of which are schools,” he told the board last Tuesday night.

The board is currently spending in the neighbourhood of $5.7 million on empty spaces, he added. That includes over 6,000 empty spaces in permanent structures, not including portables and portapaks. Declining enrolment also impacts funding, Awender noted, as the Ministry of Education reduced the maximum top-up funding to 95 per cent and introduced a two-tiered system where schools at, or below, a 65 per cent utilization rate only receive a ten per cent top-up in funding instead of 15 per cent. That funding level means the GECDSB can only address urgent needs and is not adequate enough to address the board’s total renewal needs.

“The empty spaces are only going to hurt us moreso,” he stated.

Awender said the board has reduced its inventory of buildings older than 50-years-old by 26 per cent since 2006 but of the remaining buildings, ten per cent of them are over 90 years old and over 51 per cent are over 50 years old making the Greater Essex County District School Board’s infrastructure inventories one of the oldest in the province.

Other high schools that would be subject to accommodation reviews, should the recommendation be approved in its entirety, would be Harrow District High School and Harrow Public School. Some trustees balked at including Harrow in another accommodation study since that community went through one less than five years ago.

Amherstburg/LaSalle trustee Helga Bailey encouraged board members to come up with “creative solutions” to the problem. “I think we have a genuine opportunity to turn challenges into innovative solutions,” she said. Bailey, who was in her final meeting as a trustee, was also one of the board members wanting to hold off on making a final decision. She said her successor, Ron LeClair, should be allowed to be part of the process.

“He needs to be part of the process from the beginning,” said Bailey. “I think it’s important he have the opportunity right from the start.”

Dave Taves, the trustee representing Leamington and Pelee Island, said the board has always supported communities keeping their local high schools “and I don’t see that changing.”

Shelley Harding-Smith, an outgoing trustee from Windsor, said she would prefer to see “community outreach before we start meddling with boundaries.”

“Overwhelming” support shown for Michael Matte dinner fundraiser

 

Hal Desbiens, Michael Matte’s stepfather, and mother Christine Matte accepted an award in Michael’s memory from the Greater Essex County District School Board last Tuesday night.

Al Desbiens, Michael Matte’s stepfather, and mother Christine Matte accepted an award in Michael’s memory from the Greater Essex County District School Board last Tuesday night.

Teammates and coaches of Michael Matte take a look at the prize table and offer up some bids during the silent auction at the Nov. 19 pasta dinner fundraiser at the K of C Hall.

Teammates and coaches of Michael Matte take a look at the prize table and offer up some bids during the silent auction at the Nov. 19 pasta dinner fundraiser at the K of C Hall.

Isaiah Byrne and T.J. Laframboise load up on pasta during the fundraiser for teammate Michael Matte last Wednesday night at the Amherstburg K of C Hall. The dinner raised roughly $6,000 and helped the family pay for funeral expenses, which are now covered.

Isaiah Byrne and T.J. Laframboise load up on pasta during the fundraiser for teammate Michael Matte last Wednesday night at the Amherstburg K of C Hall. The dinner raised roughly $6,000 and helped the family pay for funeral expenses, which are now covered.

By Ron Giofu

 

The community turned out in full force to the Knights of Columbus Hall last Wednesday night to support Michael Matte’s family.

Matte, the 17-year-old who died suddenly of carbon monoxide poisoning in his Simcoe St. garage Nov. 8, was the subject of a benefit pasta dinner. A total of 321 dinners were served.

Ila Colombe, Matte’s grandmother, was blown away by the response from the town.

“We raised around $6,000 at the pasta dinner,” said Colombe. “We have enough to pay for the funeral.”

Donations are still coming in, said Colombe, with plans for those funds to be determined.

“I never, ever dreamed this would happen,” she said, of the response to her grandson’s death.

The fact Matte’s sudden death brought so many people together was something positive for the town, she said.

“It just shows Amherstburg takes care of their own.”

Colombe said she worked for 25 years at the House of Shalom and has watched members become local business leaders. The response to Matte’s death was another way that her faith in youth has been restored.

“It’s mind-boggling our town came out for this,” she said. “Michael never knew how many people he touched. For him to have so many friends, it’s overwhelming.”

His death has also allowed people to learn about CO detectors, added Colombe.

Support for the benefit dinner was strong, agree those who helped present it.

“It’s been overwhelming,” said Paula Kellam, one of the benefit’s organizers.

Kellam said Sobeys and Romano’s helped provide food for the dinner with volunteers coming in to help prepare it. She said they were hoping for 300 people to attend.

People were also walking in with dessert donations, Kellam added.

“That will also go to the family,” she said.

Companies and individuals were also dropping off anonymous donations. Leslie Leroux, another of the organizers, said people were stopping at the dinner to give donations even if they weren’t eating.

Employees of an area company, who didn’t want to be named, donated $700 they raised through a 50/50 draw. Over 40 silent auction prizes were also donated by local businesses and residents.

“The outpouring has been tremendous,” said Leroux.

Among the larger prizes were a $500 bicycle donated by Canadian Tire, a Carolina Hurricanes hockey jersey autographed by Kevin Westgarth and a Team Canada hockey jersey autographed by Meghan Agosta. Dan and Judy Pettypiece donated the jerseys.

Christine Matte, Michael’s mother, also used “overwhelming” to describe the support. She said she figured there would be a lot of people coming to the dinner but added she did not expect as much support from the community as there has been.

“Michael had a very, very good connection with everyone, including the school (General Amherst), the community and the football team,” she said. “I can’t even say how happy I am with all of this.”

Matte said she is thankful to the community for all of their assistance during the family’s difficult time.

“It’s wonderful what they are doing for him,” she said. “Michael is looking down on everyone right now.”

Santa Claus comes to town!

 

The Amherstburg Santa Claus Parade was held Saturday night with thousands lining the route. The parade was staged by the Windsor Parade Corporation with multiple bands, floats and businesses taking part.

The parade was held in warmer conditions that last year and parade goers avoided precipitation this year as well. Freezing rain and rain had hit the Amherstburg area at points during the day but stayed away for the most part during the Nov. 22 parade.

Santa Claus came to town Saturday night as part of the annual Santa Claus parade, presented by the Windsor Parade Corporation.

Santa Claus came to town Saturday night as part of the annual Santa Claus parade, presented by the Windsor Parade Corporation.

The Renaissance High School band plays their way down Richmond St.

The Renaissance High School band plays their way down Richmond St.

Pepe's Pumpkins had some heavy machinery lit up as it makes its way down Richmond St. Nov. 22.

Pepe’s Pumpkins had some heavy machinery lit up as it makes its way down Richmond St. Nov. 22.

Sarah Parks from Sarah Parks Horsemanship and Michelle Stein from Firehorse Leadership Organization were on horseback for the parade.

Sarah Parks from Sarah Parks Horsemanship and Michelle Stein from Firehorse Leadership Organization were on horseback for the parade.

The Re/Max float was its usual fiery self during Saturday night's parade.

The Re/Max float was its usual fiery self during Saturday night’s parade.

The Sun Parlour Pipes & Drums make their way down the parade route.

The Sun Parlour Pipes & Drums make their way down the parade route.

A Gingerbread person and their Gingerbread House make their way down Richmond St.

A Gingerbread person and their Gingerbread House make their way down Richmond St.

Another one of the many bands in the parade was from Anderdon Public School.

Another one of the many bands in the parade was from Anderdon Public School.

Council split over accepting union’s offer to extend contract

 

Town hallBy Ron Giofu

 

Town council was split over an offer by the town’s unionized workforce to extend its collective agreement by one year, though the offer was accepted.

The town and IBEW Local 636 reached the agreement to extend the current collective agreement with no increases for its membership.

During the Nov. 17 meeting, the town, in a 4-3 vote, accepted the offer with Mayor Wayne Hurst and councillors Carolyn Davies, Bob Pillon and John Sutton voting to accept. Deputy Mayor Ron Sutherland, Councillor Bart DiPasquale and Councillor Diane Pouget voted against the motion.

Pouget commented that she did not want to see the incoming council’s hands tied by such a deal. Only Pouget and DiPasquale will return, with the latter moving up to deputy mayor.

Davies believed it was a “very generous” offer and one that wouldn’t come around too often. CAO John Miceli stated the offer of a zero per cent wage increase means savings to the taxpayer.

“That represents a savings to the town of $54,000,” said Miceli.

In a press release sent out by the town, Miceli said a benefit of the agreement is that it provides “labour and service continuity for one year with cost containment, therefore reducing budget pressures for 2015. We recognize and appreciate the membership’s agreement to a zero wage increase as the town moves forward with its strategic financial plans.”

“With the financial pressures the town has been under we thought that a one year extension to the current collective agreement was in order, not only to reduce budget pressures on the town, but to provide security for our members,” Brian Manninger, IBEW Local 636 business representative added in the release.

Following the meeting, Mayor-elect Aldo DiCarlo also said the offer is “very generous” but respects the concerns of the dissenting members.

“On the surface, it looks good,” he said of the offer, “but why the division if it’s a generous offer?”

DiCarlo said that if it is a good offer, the new council will find out soon enough.

“If it isn’t, I guess we are going to find out soon too,” he said.

 

County council members offer farewells and best wishes at final meeting of term

 

county_of_essex_logoBy Ron Giofu

 

Essex County council will have a new look next month and those that are leaving said goodbye and those that are staying offered their best wishes.

At least six new county council members are coming onto county council with a seventh new member possible depending on whom the new Essex town council appoints as its deputy mayor.

Amherstburg Mayor Wayne Hurst and Deputy Mayor Ron Sutherland are not returning with outgoing members also including Kingsville Deputy Mayor Tamara Stomp, Leamington Deputy Mayor Charlie Wright, Tecumseh Deputy Mayor Cheryl Hardcastle and LaSalle Deputy Mayor Mark Carrick.

Hurst joked that he recalled the days when there were 42 members instead of 14 on county council and that getting final comments from everyone used to take a lot longer.

“It’s certainly been a pleasure during my years on county council,” Hurst said at last Wednesday night’s meeting.

Hurst said he met many friends during his tenure and wished everyone success in the future.

Sutherland said it was “an absolute pleasure” to serve on county council on behalf of the residents of Amherstburg. The professionalism around the county council table was “astounding,” he said, also praising administration for the work they do.

Admitting he was “dejected” not to carry on, Sutherland also offered praise for Warden Tom Bain, calling Bain “a great mentor and coach.”

Wright said it was “quite an honour” to represent his municipality and the County of Essex and said he is now entering “my second retirement.” Wright added Essex County “is the very best place to live in Essex County.”

Stomp similarly thanked her municipality for allowing her to serve and also thanked staff for the job they do. She also paid tribute to the residents that came forward with their issues and those that served with county council members on committees.

“I am very much going to miss this,” said Stomp.

“It’s been fun,” added Carrick. “You’ve all been professional and helpful.”

Richard Meloche, the current deputy mayor of Essex and a re-elected councillor in that town’s Ward 2, said “the people here made good decisions over the last four years.” He also praised administration and said they genuinely work towards better serving county residents.

Leamington Mayor John Paterson said he was pleased to work with the outgoing members and was looking forward to the next four years while Lakeshore Deputy Mayor Al Fazio said he made lifelong friends in his first term as a county councillor.

“That means a lot to me,” said Fazio.

Kingsville Mayor Nelson Santos said it was hard to believe another four years had passed and praised Bain’s leadership as warden, something LaSalle Mayor Ken Antaya also did.

“The professionalism around this table is just great,” added Antaya. “I thank everyone for being friends and colleagues.”

Antaya added he worked with Carrick when he was CAO and Carrick a councillor and that they rode together to meetings as mayor and deputy mayor.

“It was a great experience.”

“It’s been a pleasure working with each one of you,” added Essex Mayor Ron McDermott. “I’ll treasure your friendship forever.”
McDermott added he was looking forward to working with the new members of county council.

Hardcastle and Tecumseh Mayor Gary McNamara were unable to attend last Wednesday night’s meeting.

Bain, who was re-elected as mayor in Lakeshore, believed that a lot was accomplished during the term of county council.

“I feel it has been an extremely successful four years,” said Bain.

Bain credited county council for being “a very strong team,” telling members “you certainly made my job easier in carrying out my duties as the warden.”

The first meeting of the new Essex County council is scheduled for Dec. 10, at which point members will elect the warden and deputy warden for the 2014-18 term.