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Tiny rural school faces prospect of closing

Dwindling number has officials weighing options

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Latisha Smith, 7, walks down an empty hallway in Reynolds Community School in Prawda last year. A decision on the school's future could come soon.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Enlarge Image

Latisha Smith, 7, walks down an empty hallway in Reynolds Community School in Prawda last year. A decision on the school's future could come soon. Photo Store

The days may be numbered for Manitoba's smallest public school.

Reynolds Community School in Prawda has a projected enrolment of only 4.5 full-time-equivalent students for September in the kindergarten to Grade 6 school that had 84 students in the late 1990s.

While the provincial moratorium on closing small schools is still in effect, the Department of Education said last year it is prepared to close small schools if the local community and school division believe they're no longer viable.

That decision could come soon.

"We've never talked about closure," though Sunrise School Division is meeting regularly with the handful of remaining parents, superintendent Wayne Leckie said this week.

"If we were to decide to close the school, we would meet with the community" to discuss that specific possibility, Leckie said.

And, he said, that meeting would happen soon, before the end of the school year June 30.

"The department's well aware -- we've kept them informed," Leckie said.

With some children in kindergarten attending every second day, there have been times this school year that as few as two children have been in the school, he said.

The school officially had nine children enrolled as of last Sept. 30, the same number as the year before. However, it has been down to as few as seven, and there have been times not all the children were permanent nearby residents.

In recent years, area foster families have helped maintain enrolment.

The school has four classrooms, a gym and a library, as well as a large playing field and green area.

It was built to accommodate more than 100 students, and even with kindergarten to Grade 3 capped now at 20 students, and the province encouraging smaller classes in other grades, Reynolds is a school with a capacity of 80 children.

The dwindling enrolment has come about from a combination of empty-nesters, parents opting for the much-larger Whitemouth School or choosing private schools.

Frontier School Division has provided a bus to the nearby division boundary for parents to send their kids to Falcon Beach School.

Sunrise attempted to fill the school's empty space by offering to share the building with a faith-based independent school in the area, but that failed because of the private school's concerns over maintaining a religious environment in a secular public school.

Should Reynolds close, it is not clear what would become of the building.

An aide to Education and Advanced Learning Minister James Allum said Friday Allum wants to hear what the parents have to say.

"Our government has been very consistent regarding our public school closure policy. We think it is important to have the parents meet and discuss, as their input is very valuable. We will wait until they have their say before we make further comment," said Allum's aide.

The province allowed Pine Dock School in Frontier to close when it dropped to three students.

Both Kenton School and Graysville School closed when parents voted with their feet and left the schools empty -- they decided the schools had become too small, and all chose to transfer their kids to larger schools in bigger towns.

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 17, 2014 A8

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