Royal Oak is not a private school, parent and board member Robin Ridesic told Town council Monday, it’s a registered charity that ensures access to any student who wants to attend.
With council debating budget items and grant levels leading up to a February approval date, Ridesic was representing one of several organizations in town weighing in on their financial requirements.
Ridesic was responding to a discussion last week that suggested Royal Oak is a private school and should not receive funding in the way of a discretionary grant from the Town.
Not all councillors agreed, with Coun. Clare Cameron speaking on Royal Oak’s behalf, reminding council it is the only school in the Old Town, and the new council has made a commitment to look after youth.
“I don’t envy you having to decide how to divvy out what money you have,” Ridesic told councillors, thanking them for their consideration.
To continue to support the school, which is currently leasing the Town-owned hospital building on Wellington Street, Lord Mayor Betty Disero suggested staff instead look at other ways for the Town to help out financially.
Ridesic told councillors Royal Oak came about after a long battle to save Parliament Oak School, which has since closed. Some of those involved in fighting its closure looked at ways to keep education for elementary students in the Old Town, partly to ensure its sustainability, vibrancy and balance, but also to address the issue of public school capacity.
The three publicly-funded schools in town have a combined capacity of about 1,200 students, while serving a community with 1,500 elementary school-aged kids, she said. Royal Oak has become a “place-holder” for public education in the Old Town, as a service to the community and to help retain families in the area.
Forty-six per cent of its students receive bursaries, said Ridesic, assuring council no student would be turned away because of financial issues.
Royal Oak has attracted many children who weren’t thriving in NOTL’s public schools, she said. Crossroads has almost 600 students and large class sizes, creating challenges for some students, especially those who need extra attention, she said, as well as some intelligent students who are bored with the curriculum.
Royal Oak has 35 kids with eight full-time staff providing a safe and supportive learning environment, and also provides ample opportunity for students to be part of the community – they use the library and the community centre gym, clean up garbage in near-by parks, attend Remembrance Day ceremonies and recently sang O Canada at an Ice Dogs game
The school’s discretionary grant application was focused on funding for community-wide programs, she said, such as a free camp on Easter Monday and after-school clubs to allow children from all communities and schools in NOTL to play and learn together.
Although the majority of council decided against a grant for the school, Ridesic said the board is pleased councillors agreed to ask staff to look at rent reduction options instead.
She is confident that when staff review the details they will drop a planned rent increase. “This would allow the Town to still make money from the rent charged to the school but maintain the school’s costs at last year’s levels,” she said.