Hours of debate in the council about the number of pupils at Det Hellige Hjerte

“What exactly has been agreed about the maximum number of students for Hellig Hjertes Skole and the distribution of children across the primary schools in Dongen, and even more importantly: Are those agreements determined on paper, or is it just a matter of a ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ «?

That was the point of an hour-long discussion yesterday in the city council. This means that the three school boards and the municipality must meet again as soon as possible to restore trust in each other and work together on solutions. It was a small bright spot at the end of a discussion that all too often derailed into bombarding each other with questions about what was agreed at what time. In front of a full public gallery, Education Speaker Denise Kunst gave detailed answers to the barrage of questions posed by the opposition parties D66, the Elderly Party for Dongen and the VVD.

By: Bernadette Klerx

The reason was an angry letter from the school board of Sacred Heart, Stichting Initia, to the college. In that letter, Initia expressed its dissatisfaction with the maximum number of students of 407 in strong terms and accusations to councilor Denise Kunst. According to Initia, Heilig Hart did not choose this at all, but this figure was commissioned by the alderman. And this means in practice that Sacred Heart can no longer accept students, even if they live close to the school. The board, on the other hand, reacted furiously to the accusations against the municipality and in particular councilor Art and addressed the board of Initia directly in a letter with a message to enter into discussion as soon as possible. That conversation is taking place today.

Prevent vacancy
According to councilor Denise Kunst, the three school boards in Dongen have made agreements on the maximum number of students. This is to prevent one school’s popularity from leading to vacancies at other schools. However, Sacred Heart School claims it has always opposed these agreements. The consequences of a maximum number of pupils were made clear by emotional arguments from two parents whose children can no longer attend Sacred Heart School because the school is ‘full’.

To trust
On the other hand, there was the argument of Arnoud Wever, director of PCPO Midden-Brabant (with Dongense schools JJ Anspach and De Wegwijzer). He also spoke on behalf of Robert Venema, Director of Bravoo (Public Education). It gave a completely different sound. In any case, it was clear that PCPO and Bravoo on the one hand and Initia on the other did not really get along. ‘It is important that school boards and politicians work well together. And it also means that you trust each other and give each other something. Cooperation with Initia is difficult, and this conflict costs us a lot of precious time. As for us, we will restore trust as soon as possible, because we need each other.’

Collective interest
Councilor for the arts emphasized once again in his answer that the municipality is mainly concerned with solidarity between the schools and the collective interest. In other words: the popularity of one school should not lead to an exodus from other schools. The councilor also explained that there is no dispersal policy on paper, but that there is a kind of ‘gentlemen’s agreement’. ‘And you can expect everyone to stick to it.’

The council was eager to come up with a creative solution, but mostly got bogged down in a difficult discussion where the opposition and coalition regularly clashed. The closest to a solution came a proposal from various parties to possibly build modular, to temporarily place extra units in a school. ‘Why don’t we? They have also done that in Oosterhout and it has been a success,’ reported D66 councilor Joeri de Jong.

But councilor Kunst didn’t like that. “The addition of extra units will lead to depopulation in other schools, and we don’t want that. As a municipality, we attach great importance to following the collective agreement closely. It is very important to us’.

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