Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Province open to school closures

Deputy minister says government willing to consider certain cases

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Education Minister Nancy Allan's door is open to school boards that want to close small schools with dwindling enrolment.

The moratorium on closing schools will still be in force -- school trustees won't regain their unilateral authority to close schools -- but Allan is ready to listen, said deputy education minister Gerald Farthing.

"The moratorium is still in effect, but we are looking at individual situations when they're brought to our attention," said Farthing. "When situations are brought to the minister's attention, she's prepared to have the conversation.

"We're aware of some situations that might be brought to us in the near future -- Reynolds might be one of them."

An extensive story in Saturday's Free Press examined how Reynolds Elementary School in Prawda has gone from 84 students in the late 1990s to nine students this year and seven this September. Other schools in rural Manitoba in communities such as Oak River, Eden and Plumas have lost so many students that their viability is in doubt.

There were 13 schools across Manitoba scheduled for definite or possible closure in either June 2008 or June 2009 when the NDP government suddenly imposed a moratorium on school closings in the spring of 2008. Back then, school boards could close schools after extensive public consultation.

Any closings would still take place, only after extensive public consultation, Farthing cautioned.

"That's not going back to the way it was before. We are, within that situation, prepared to look," Farthing said.

He declined to name any other schools that Allan might be asked to consider closing.

It's not just rural schools, Farthing said: "There are one or two urban situations, schools where it's something to look at."

When the province imposed the moratorium, it allowed tiny Pine Dock School in Frontier School Division to close because it was down to three students. Reston, Fisher Branch and Ashern were all allowed to consolidate two schools with declining enrolments into one school building in each community.

Kenton School closed during the moratorium -- parents voted with their feet, leaving the school empty by choosing to bus their kids to Miniota when enrolment hit single digits.

But the moratorium put the brakes on plans to close schools in Winnipeg.

River East Transcona had planned to close Sherwood and Westview schools.

Pembina Trails wanted to close Chapman School, which, as of the 2011-2012 school year, was Winnipeg's smallest school with 75 kids.

Louis Riel had been the most ambitious division, looking at closing all or some of four schools, all in ridings held by NDP members -- Henri-Bergeron, Archwood, Marion and Dr. D. W. Penner. Those closings would have required extensive shifting of students and programs among remaining neighbourhood schools.

St. James-Assiniboia had looked at closing and/or merging several schools in the west end of the division. The division had been poised to recommend closing Ness Middle School and shifting those children to Hedges School, when the moratorium suddenly appeared.

The province has provided millions of dollars to encourage community facilities to move into vacant school space, primarily daycares.

However, Sunrise School Division has not been able to find anyone willing to run a daycare in the empty classrooms at Reynolds Elementary, although the RM of Reynolds has stationed its recreation director in the school part-time.

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Readers question why mostly empty school hasn't been closed

 

THIS is a selection of comments following the publication in Saturday's edition of a feature package titled Making the Grade: Schoolhouse thrives with only nine students, two teachers and one dog. The original feature package is available on winnipegfreepress.com.

 

While I am sure the education these kids are getting is exceptional, this can't be the best use of tax dollars. The financial inefficiencies of these small schools must be incredible.

-- Fetchen Kerri

 

And my school taxes are going up?! Too many administrators, too many divisions and now this? The NDP are doing everything in their power to chase educated professionals out of this province.

- Ceres

 

I graduated from one of the schools on that list and we were under threat of closure in the early 90s. We hated the idea of leaving our town and being bused an hour to a much large community that didn't care about us the way our home community did, being unable to participate in after-school programs and being swallowed by a much larger school. Every kid that graduates from our town is grateful to have done so in a supportive community, something I haven't been able to find in the city. I'm now trying to move back there partially because although my daughter's school in Winnipeg is nice, it's just missing something.

- Apple

And the province wants to insist the smaller RMs amalgamate in the interest of efficiencies. Something wrong here. Situations like this are simply wasteful. I understand the benefit of small schools and communities, but there is a point when hard decisions must be made. Seven students would be the point.

- 23140731

 

Sorry, but this is just stupid. It's unfortunate that the kids need to get buses to schools further away, but this is simply not affordable. What's the cost per student for this setup? I feel that other kids are being discriminated against. Time to take it to court.

 

- JustMe4

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 11, 2013 A5

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