By Stew Slater
A weary group of parents from A.J. Baker Public School in Kintore emerged from an epic meeting of the Thames Valley District School Board on Tuesday, Jan. 22, in what one Uniondale-area resident described as “an honest and genuine state of disgust.” That happened at about 11:30 p.m. after trustees — minus one of Oxford County’s two representatives on the board, who had to leave at 10:30 p.m. for his job — voted unanimously to place the facility under review for closure.
Pending final approval of a recommendation from administrative staff, which must now be considered by a yet-to-be-convened Accommodation Review Commit-tee (ARC), the school could close effective September, 2015, with students sent to either Zorra Highland near Embro, Thamesford Public School, or West Nissouri Public School in Thorndale.
“I was literally open-mouthed at what happened,” said Uniondale-area resident Marcus Ryan, who has a son attending A.J. Baker and a daughter enrolled to begin Junior Kindergarten in September.
The possible presence of A.J. Baker on what’s being called the Northwest Oxford ARC was not a surprise to the parents. The staff recommendation actually came through late in 2012, but a vote on whether or not to proceed was deferred until the Jan. 22 meeting.
Oxford County trustees Graham Hart and Bill McKinnon supported a further deferral, arguing there are upcoming developments — specifically, the outcome of a separate accommodation review currently underway in the London and District Catholic District School Board involving another elementary school in Thamesford; and the Province of Ontario-mandated roll-out of full-day Kindergarten to all schools by 2014. But McKinnon was no longer in attendance at the Jan. 22 meeting when Hart made a motion for deferral, so Hart’s motion died when no seconder came forward.
And that’s the part that drew the ire of the A.J. Baker parents, as well as the two Oxford trustees.
Hart, in an interview with the Journal Argus, was perhaps the most subdued. Trustees, he said, “aren’t doing a very good job accommodating Trustee McKin-non’s (employment duties).” Hart added he asked in the past to ensure Oxford-related content is dealt with early in the meetings, but feels his pleas have fallen on deaf ears.
McKinnon was a little more pointed in his criticism. “At 7:30 p.m., we were at Item 13 on the agenda. A.J. Baker was Item 16. Two and a half hours on four agenda items should have been long enough,” the trustee stressed. He added he would have first supported Hart’s motion to defer, and even if that had been defeated, he would also have voted against the eventual motion to convene the Northwest Oxford ARC.
Ryan, meanwhile, was unrestrained in his frustration with the hours spent on the three agenda items ahead of A.J. Baker on the Jan. 22 agenda.
“They spent literally hours talking about ARCs in two other areas . . . and then when it came time for A.J. Baker . . . it was obvious the trustees had no idea where these communities are.” Ryan’s unofficial timing of the pre-vote discussion about the school totalled eight minutes.
Hart offered a defense of the short time taken, saying the issues covered in the other two ARC discussions applied equally in the case of A.J. Baker, and didn’t need to be revisited. But Ryan scoffed at the trustee’s explanation.
A.J. Baker parents held a meeting Monday evening to decide next steps.