SCHOOL campaigners say they still have unanswered questions following the latest round of school talks.
However, some came away assured that no decisions have been taken, and that there is still time for voices to be heard.
Community briefings on Moray Council’s Sustainable Education Review got underway this week, covering the results of a survey on far-reaching proposals for the future of education in the area.
Ideas on the table include mergers, closures, new-builds and the creation of 3 to 18 campuses.
Consultants Caledonian Economics were drafted in after it emerged £70 million is needed to bring the estate up to scratch. A cross-party steering group – made up of Councillors George Alexander (Ind), Sean Morton (Labour), Mike Shand (SNP) and Anne Skene (Ind) – is driving the project forward.
Project members met with community representatives in the Buckie Associated Schools Group (ASG) on Tuesday, followed by a meeting for Speyside on Wednesday and Milne’s last night (Thursday).
A council spokesman noted a disappointing turnout at the first two sessions, with just half of those invited to the Buckie and Speyside ASG meetings attending.
Among those who did attend was chairman of Findochty Community Council, Ryan Main, who said: "Whilst we appreciate that effort is being made to consult with and update our communities on the process to date and going forward, we remain very concerned that little cognisance of the importance of our school to our community is being taken.
"Much of the evening was spent being preached to by the chair of the meeting, Councillor George Alexander, urging us not to look at the school as being the hub of our community and instead consider what would be best for the education of our children.
"They seem to either fail to understand, or choose to ignore, the fact that we consider that the best education for the children of Findochty is to be educated in Findochty Primary School."
The council spokesman said the most important consideration is that the education of the area’s children is maintained, and improved upon.
"This was the overwhelming view of all those that took part in the first round of workshops, more so than any perceived community impact," he said.
"We have to evaluate the educational benefits of any idea fully before we look at other possible impacts, and all these would be part of the decision-making process undertaken by elected members."
Despite earlier confirmation that the status quo remained an option, Mr Main said that position was thrown into question at the session.
"Very little mention was made in the presentation regarding maintaining the status quo, despite this having appeared during earlier presentations," he said.
"This leads to concern that decision has been taken to make some form of change within the Buckie ASG, although this was denied by the Moray Council at the meeting. They went on to state that although the status quo may be a possibility for individual ASGs or schools, it is not a possibility for the Moray Council overall. This obviously suggests that something will change somewhere."
However, the council spokesman said the status quo does remain an option.
"On the survey document it was clearly stated that the ideas presented were set against the status quo, so if none of the ideas could be made to work then that would be the default position," he said.
Other issues raised included: the impact of a closure on the health of a community already suffering from the loss of its library and an undredged harbour; the loss of Scottish Government funding which subsidises rural schools; and the impact moving to a larger school could have on children with additional support needs. Concerns over the transportation of youngsters to school outwith the village were also considered.
"I’m afraid this meeting left us with more questions than answers, and no clearer idea as to how the review is likely to finish. Therefore our Keep Findochty School Open campaign shall continue to strive to do just that," Mr Main said.
Craigellachie Parent Partnership chair Lorna Johnston was one of about 13 community representatives at Wednesday’s Speyside session.
"I wouldn’t say we were any clearer on what’s happening. I had a whole list of questions that I couldn’t get a chance to get answers to, but I’m going to e-mail them directly to the council," she said.
Representatives of schools impacted in the Speyside area have now decided to meet to come up with their own suggestions.
"We are going to sit down and work it out between us, and Caledonian Economics said they are happy for us to come back with more ideas. They are still open to suggestions, which is really good, and we still have a voice, which made me feel more comfortable with the process. I felt decisions hadn’t been made, but if we don’t speak now, our views won’t be heard. Give them their dues, they are looking at this properly, and long term, but they don’t seem to see it from the point of view of a small community," she said.
Further sessions for invited community representatives will take place at Keith (April 21), Forres (April 22), Elgin (April 23) and Lossiemouth (April 28). Subsequent briefings will follow, before options on the way ahead go before elected members. Should any changes be proposed and agreed by councillors, a formal consultation process would begin post-October holidays 2014.
Ahead of the Keith ASG group meeting, Crossroads Primary Pupils Gemma and Aiden Stronach made a plea to councillors.
In a poem, they wrote: "Council, council don’t be cruel, Please save our Crossroads School; The classes are small and the teachers are great, they bring on our education at a tremendous rate; If I’m stuck and get in a muddle, the teacher can help me with my trouble. A class of 15 is really just fine, 25 or 30, she would have no time; So please Council, don’t be mean, the quality of education can clearly be seen; To close Crossroads School would be a disaster, to our community it really does matter."