Sunday, 28 January 2018
Villagers are raging over proposals to close St Martin’s Primary School
No strangers to protest – the people of Renton on the march.
By Bill Heaney
The people of Renton are raging about new proposals by the SNP administration on West Dunbartonshire Council to shut St Martin’s PS in the village and merge it with St Mary’s PS in Alexandria.
Especially since Jonathan McColl, the SNP group leader, made keeping St Martin’s open a personal resignation issue in 2008 when his party was out of power.
The school now has 15 more pupils than it had on its roll ten years ago.
The people of Renton, who have protested vigorously about council proposals for a new primary and nursery school, were told then that if they agreed to moving the nursery school from the village Main Street into St Martin’s at Place of Bonhill then the future of the school would be safeguarded.
Community activist Drew MacEoghainn said: “Now the council, led by the SNP this time, are back again.
“Even with an increased school role and an expansion needed to the nursery, they still want to close it down.
“This is treachery, they want shamelessly to make cuts and balance their books on the back of our children’s education.”
He added that democracy in West Dunbartonshire was “an illusion,” and alleged that council decision were being made not in council committees but at political party meetings.
“The last time we fought the closure of St Martin’s, the Labour party met on the Monday night and announced on the Tuesday morning that the school closure wasn’t going ahead,” he said.
“This was a full two days before the education committee met. Now we have the ‘options’ given to four parent councils by officers under instruction from the SNP which amount to a take it or leave it scenario, Hobson’s Choice, which is no choice at all.”
The plan is to close St Martin’s, remove all children to St Mary’s at Ferryfield, off Bank Street, build a new facility for Renton primary, and re-site the language unit and the nursery.
“The SNP have taken the decision to push for the closure of St Martin’s, not the council officers.”
St Martin’s school was established in Renton in 1899, 19 years before the Education (Scotland) Act 1918.
The Act was drafted by Monsignor Hugh Canon Kelly, of St Patrick’s Church in Dumbarton and gave Catholics the right to their own publicly-funded schools.
The owner of the land on which the old chapel-school was built, Mr W.S. Turnbull, was a non-Catholic, but welcomed the construction of a church.
He said at the time that “Catholics are only doing what every denomination should strive to do, namely to improve the morality of the people and, towards this end, education is the first step.”
Mr MacEoghainn added: “Renton people have always worked together for all of Renton.
“Religious intolerance never has and never will be a problem in our village.
“Yet now, we have a SNP administration trying to eradicate our Catholic school provision from our village after 119 years.
“If only the SNP had the vision that Mr Turnbull had 119 years ago.”
The SNP stated in 2009 that with the amalgamation of the nursery schools at Renton PS and St Mart’s there would be a saving of £15,000 in the first year and to £45,000 every year thereafter.
SNP Councillor Craig McLaughlin, the council’s finance convener, said at the time: “The education department has been closely looking at an alternative proposal which involves amalgamating Vale of Leven and Renton nurseries within the school. We see that as a viable option, which negates the need to close the school.”
Renton, which regularly elects socialist councillors and never SNP or Labour candidates, has been targeted for cuts by successive administrations.
Savings made through the controversial closures of the village library, the community centre and the amalgamation of the nursery with St Martin’s PS are estimated to total more nearly £1.7 million over the past 12 years.
Mr MacEoghainn told councillors planning to make further cuts: “This village also pulled you out the fire when the Cordale Housing Association purchased Leven Cottage from you when you were in a financial mess at a further annual saving to the council of £200,000 per annum.”
His message is clear: “Enough is enough. Now balance your books elsewhere. You have stolen enough from our village.”
He suggests the SNP makes good a promise made previously by Labour to spend a total of £17.3 million on schools and educational establishments in Renton.”
He claims that the new proposals to improve the non denominational primary school and close the Catholic one is divisive – “stop your current divide and conquer policy.”
The SNP have been invited to comment on this story but choose not to communicate with The Democrat.
Mr MacEoghainn said: “A school which was deemed not fit for purpose by the director of education three years ago is now to house two schools and a nursery. Now we are facing a situation which would see the children from Renton and Alexandria educated in a building that is over 70 years old. I think we deserve an explanation and I think too they should announce that they intend to drop these proposals immediately.”