TOWARD SCHOOL TO GO TO CLOSURE CONSULTATION
Last Updated on Wednesday, 27 April 2011 15:32 Written by Gordon Neish Tuesday, 19 April 2011 21:13
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AT A meeting of Argyll and Bute Council today (Tuesday) members voted to take the proposed closure of Toward Primary near Dunoon, along with others, to consultation. Three were saved.
A long day at Kilmory saw around two hundred parents and pupils gathered outside Argyll and Bute Council's Kilmory headquarters this morning to make their feelings known about the proposed closure of their schools.
Pipes and drums, vuvuzelas, megaphones and voices greeted councillors and officers as they arrived at the meeting to decide the fate of 12 schools on the council's latest closure list.
With the windows closed to baffle protesters’ noise, the warm council chamber soon became airless and tempers began to fray as councillors settled down for what was to become a fraught meeting.
The meeting began shortly after 10am, but it was 3.15pm before the first of the school closure proposal was considered after .
The extraordinary meeting saw acting council leader Ellen Morton accused of linking the closure proposals with the Dunblane massacre, telling councillors if they did not vote with her motion ‘their schools might be next’ and making the school closures into a party political issue.
First to be considered was Ashfield Primary, which councillors voted not to progress to consultation after pre-consultation papers were considered.
Next up were St Kieran's and Ardchonnel primaries – both of which have no pupils on their rolls. Councillors agreed to take them to consultation.
Then Toward was considered.
Cllr Morton moved to approve consultation for closure, Dunoon’s Cllr McAlister presented an amendment opposing consultation.
Speaking to her motion, council education spokeswoman Ellen Morton said: “This is a proposal I am very comfortable with putting forward to consultation.
“Half the children will actually have their journey times shortened.
“If we do not do this we will have to lose Innellan in the not too distant future.”
Cllr McAlister said that he did not see any educational benefit in transferring Toward’s 21 pupils to Innellan before asserting that the community would suffer as a result. He pointed to Rashfield and Ardentinny as examples, saying that – without a school – the latter was now known locally as ‘Jurassic Park.’
He said: “The school has a solar panel which generates £2,600 per year for the school. If the school has to close it would have to pay a £12,500 penalty to Scottish Gas. This is not mentioned in any of the council’s figures.”
Cowal Councillor Bruce Marshall said: “I wish to speak in support of the motion. Toward is a great wee school, but just down the road is the excellent school at Innellan. It just makes common sense to close it.”
Councillors voted by 20 to 12 to put the school forward to closure consultation, with local councillors McNaughton, Marshall and McQueen voting with Cllr Morton’s proposal and Cllrs Simon and McAlister voting against
Alan Stewart, chair of Toward’s Parent Council, was not a happy man. He said: “I’m absolutely disghusted. There was no genuine discussion – it was pointless.
“If this is politics you can keep it.”
Skipness and Clachan schools were next to be sent to consultation and Mr Stewart noted: “They are voting the way they are told. They are not listening to the arguments.”
North Bute Primary was next. This school has 51 pupils and, although running costs are healthy, it faces a large repair bill to bring it up to required standards. The size of the bill, however, could not be agreed with council officers claiming that the figure is upwards of £800,000 and Bute councillor Robert McIntyre saying it could be as low as £26,000 – which the council already has earmarked for repairs to the school. Cllr McIntyre claimed that Cllr Morton had a vendetta against the school.
There were cries of ‘Shame’ from the public gallery as Cllr Morton said: “As someone who was teaching at the time of the Dunblane massacre why would I have a vendetta against a school?”
She continued by telling councillors: “If you do not vote with this motion your schools might be next.” After howls from opposition councillors and the public gallery she said: That was not a threat.”
After a bad-tempered spat between Cllrs Dance and McIntyre Cllr Morton took a party political stance as she accused education secretary Michael Russell, who was in the public gallery, of interfering in the process. Councillors voted, along the same political lines as before, to send North Bute Primary to consultation.
As darkness fell the remaining schools - Rhunahaorine, Luss and Minard – were all sent to consultation. It was close to 10pm when councillors left the chamber.
The council aims to close affected schools during the Christmas break.
See this week’s Dunoon Observer for reaction and analysis.