September 24, 2013 by realrenewal
Regina Public’s 10 Year Plan has collapsed after six years, and not a moment too soon, according to the education advocacy group RealRenewal. At a meeting tonight, the board will consider a recommendation to retire the plan before its original completion date of 2018, due to rising enrolments and lack of expected cost savings from school closures.
“It’s great we’re no longer strapped to a plan that was outdated before the ink was dry. But the unfortunate legacy is fewer, more crowded schools at a time when we need more space,” said spokesperson Trish Elliott.
RealRenewal was formed in 2007 to oppose the plan, which the group said was a recipe for future overcrowding. The board maintained the closure of up to 16 schools would result in optimal enrolments of 200 to 400 students in elementary schools, and 600 to 1,200 in highschools.
“The plan promised the number of elementary schools with over 400 students would drop from six to five by 2018. Instead, we ended up with 15 elementary schools heading over the 400 mark, and a sixteenth school right at 400,” said Elliott. “We’re glad the board finally realized this is an unacceptable result.”
In 2009, after three school closures, RealRenewal presented the board with new data from the Saskatchewan Immigrant Nominee Program and the Regina General maternity ward. The group begged trustees to halt school closures and redirect their energy toward preparing for a coming enrolment bulge. Instead, four more schools were shuttered, Jenkins, Haultain, Dieppe and Athabasca.
“It’s particularly disheartening to see surrounding schools taking the heat of recent decisions,” said Elliott. Following Dieppe’s closure, nearby Walker School, built for just 200 students, now has 223 students and is expected to rise to 303 by 2018. Meanwhile, Lakeview is projected to rise to 439 students and Argyle to 400 in the next five years, following the closure of Athabasca.
“If there is any way to take back some of the closures, that would be ideal. It is hard to tell the province you need new schools when you have buildings sitting empty,” Elliott said. “And how can you get more grant money when you have fewer schools? You just end up with more students and less money to educate them. If they could re-open even one school, it would help.”
RealRenewal had also repeatedly called for the board’s capital plan to be re-calculated and re-scheduled to reflect the reality of a new provincial funding environment and booming construction costs.
“Our concern was that in exchange for closures, they were promising people new facilities they could not realistically deliver in the time frames. Indeed, we have projects years behind schedule and more than double their original budgets,” Elliott said.
The Plan promised five new schools would open by the end of 2012, at $8.05 million each. Instead, two new schools opened seven blocks apart, costing some $19 million each, with neither designated as receiving schools for the seven that closed. Of the remaining three new schools promised by 2012, one is under construction, one is still on the drawing board, and one project has been abandoned.
“Added to this is the complication of two major renovations planned in the Connaught-Lakeview area, with absolutely no capacity to absorb temporarily displaced students now that Athabasca is sold,” Elliott said. “Community members tried to delay the sale by one year, which in hindsight would have been a godsend, but no one in power was prepared to listen.”
Elliott said that while three programs remain on watch, including Connaught English, Coldwell and Martin, taking the focus off closures gives the board more room to consider better options for communities, such as adjustments to attendance areas and special program locations. She added that the board has committed to retaining dual track French-English options, and Connaught’s combined French and English enrolment of 290 is well within the board’s enrolment guidelines.
“If there’s one thing we’ve learned, it is that enrolments are not written in stone, and some excess capacity is vital for maintaining a healthy school system. When you rush toward closures, you get very quickly boxed in.”
“Another lesson is that members of the public can contribute really valuable information that should be taken seriously. Any good scientist will tell you that when data from the field contradicts your theory, you need to take a second look at the theory. In this case, it just took too long for reality to filter up to the top. But hopefully some good comes of this, in terms of community input being treated more seriously going forward.”
Original projection of elementary school enrolments over 400 by 2018
5 projected over 400, highest enrolment 668
2013 projection of schools over 400 by 2018
15 projected over 400 (3 over 700), highest enrolment 872
|Argyle||400 (border line)|