Bruce MacPherson of the Bruce-Grey Catholic District School Board

Education directors extend their run to tackle amalgamation

  • June 27, 2012

Two directors of eduction at small Catholic school boards in rural Ontario have shelved plans to retire so they can fight for their boards’ survival.

Paul Wubben of the St. Clair Catholic District School Board and Bruce MacPherson of the Bruce-Grey Catholic District School Board were to wrap up their careers this summer but both have decided to stay on, at the request of their local trustees, as each board faces being swallowed up by larger neighbouring school boards.

Staying on was not in the plans for either director, but then came March, the provincial budget and the A word — amalgamation.

“I did this at the request of the trustees and that request is predicated on the fact that the ministry is talking about amalgamation of school boards,” said Wubben, who’s contract with the St. Clair board was to end Aug. 31. “The understanding is that I will work with the board through the amalgamation process.”

For MacPherson, similar concerns were voiced by his local trustees.

“When I originally announced my retirement there was no amalgamation discussions taking place,” said MacPherson. “The trustees of our school board then approached me and asked that I delay my retirement and remain with our board for another year to assist with any amalgamation talks regarding our board.”

Contained in the provincial budget was the proposal for school board amalgamations within the Catholic, French and public boards. While no specific boards were named for potential mergers, the Ministry of Education has repeatedly stated these will be inner-system amalgamations and won’t become a slippery-slope towards one publicly funded system.

While little is known at the moment about the ministry’s plans, both boards want to be prepared.

“Apparently a process is to be in place by the end of September,” said Wubben, a fact the Ministry of Education confirmed.

“We expect consultations to be launched in September,” said ministry spokesperson Gary Wheeler. “Regarding school board restructuring, no decisions have been made yet. We are taking the time to consult with boards, parents, local communities and our education partners.”

This lack of information worries Wubben because parents could be in for a shock next school year.

“It is unlikely that our public is really aware of it simply because it is something that doesn’t have any flesh on the bones yet,” he said.

Wubben, director since 1976 at the board north of Windsor in southwestern Ontario, felt the time was right to retire, having reached a comfortable point after tough years with school closures, a boundary review and massive enrolment declines. Student numbers have declined from more than 14,000 in 1997 to 8,500 in September 2011.

“We will decline again this year and probably at least another year, then it will start to trail off,” said Wubben.

Surrounded by two significantly larger boards and one of comparable size, concerns of amalgamation began to turn into fears of total absorption.

“Given that boards on every side of us have been in declining enrolment it’s reasonable to assume that we will at least be part of the discussion,” said Wubben. “The concern we have is that if we were to be amalgamated with one or both or all three of our surrounding boards, the best elements of our culture wouldn’t be carried forward.”

MacPherson planned to leave as his contract was up at the end of August. After 30 years with the Bruce-Grey board, his entire career, it just seemed like time to pass on the reins.

But it’s his experience that has trustees calling for one more year.

“It is because of this history with our board that the trustees requested I remain in my current position,” said MacPherson. “Should our board be one of the Catholic school boards that takes part in amalgamation, I feel I would be able to rely on my experience to assist our school board through the process.”

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