SCUGOG: The doors of Cartwright High School will be closed for the last time this June, following a vote by Durham District School Board trustees during an at-times emotional meeting at DDSB headquarters in Whitby.
Students, parents and neighbours of the Blackstock school attended the Feb. 19 meeting, where the fate of the small rural high school was ultimately decided. Trustees voted 10-1 in favour of a staff recommendation to close the school this June and amalgamate the student body with Port Perry High School in September. Scugog trustee Carolyn Morton was the lone holdout, submitting a motion (later defeated) to defer the decision for one year to allow trustees time to consider other options for the school's future, such as an agriculture-based curriculum with e-learning options, as proposed by representatives from Scugog Council earlier this month.
"Agriculture is an important industry in our province and it's always changing with new advances," said Trustee Morton in her motion. "It employs hundreds of thousands of people and generates $33 billion to economy. Government is willing to invest in the community, and local farmers are as well, but we need more time to research this approach."
The final motion was the culmination of more than a year's worth of Accommodation Review Committee meetings, including several heated public meetings in Port Perry and Blackstock. Once again, figures related to repair costs presented by school board staff were questioned by several attendees. A comment by superintendent David Visser, who said that $3.9 million in repairs (including improvements making the 100-year-old building fully accessible) would be required at a facility valued at $1.9 million, was met with laughter from several of the audience members in attendance.
According to Mr. Visser, the DDSB will determine what will happen to the building later this year, adding that it could be deemed surplus and sold to any number of purchasers, such as the Township of Scugog or other school boards.
DDSB Chair and Uxbridge/Brock trustee Joe Allin questioned the timing of the Scugog proposals so late in the ARC process. In his address to the board, he also denied being quoted as saying he has been "waiting for five years to close this school" as stated by supporters of CHS.
"Only lately, there's been an acceptance that the status quo is not sustainable, with a bunch of alternatives submitted that were already put forward, such as the notion of e-learning" said the trustee. "We've heard from the community about having a school within a school and an agri-science program at CHS. I would suggest that type of program is not innovative because it's already at one of our other schools. If you're going to explore an innovative idea, I would suggest you speak to those people, not the council chamber of Port Perry.... If there was a need for this type of program, what makes it something that could only be offered at CHS? The timing is suspect - why wasn't it talked about at the outset? The ARC moved away from those ideas. If the township saw a need for this program, they had other opportunities to propose it."
However, additional comments by Mr. Allin were seen as insulting by local residents.
"The library is an embarrassment," he said. "I can't imagine a CHS student going to the University of Toronto library and feeling comfortable.... I've also heard about the outstanding arts program at CHS - but when I attended the McLaughlin gallery last fall, I noted one school was not represented. Cartwright wasn't at the Sunderland Lions Club Musicfest, either."
Student Cullen Owtrim told The Standard that only a handful of CHS students currently drive, raising the issue of transportation to PPHS. He added that Mr. Allin's view of the school was somewhat hypocritical.
"They say our programs are good, but as soon as money's an issue, they say something else," he said.
Former Scugog DDSB trustee Joyce Kelly said she was "terribly disappointed" with the decision, after telling The Standard prior to the meeting that there was no indication from trustees which way the vote would go.
"I don't know if we're here for a wake or a hootenany," said Ms. Kelly prior to the decision.
Scugog councillor Wilma Wotten, who has been a vocal supporter of keeping the school open, shared Ms. Kelly's opinion, adding that "disrespectful" comments by Mr. Allin were not needed.
Supporter Melanie Wright added "they say the library is shameful, but it's not our fault - it's theirs (the DDSB)."
Blackstock resident Patti Alpe also expressed disillusionment with the ARC process.
"A year ago," she said, "everyone was asking if this was a done deal. The board said it wasn't, but there's been no change since day one."