When three-year-old Keaton Streilein and his baby brother Elliott go outside, they can see the only school in the Sage Creek subdivision, but it may be the closest they’ll ever get to it.
Sage Creek, the Qualico development with the motto "Naturally Appealing," is so appealing to homebuyers that its elementary school, which opened last September, is bursting at the seams.
The provincial government refuses to build a new school because of its financial situation and because there are empty desks at other schools in the division. It means that even though the Streilein family lives about as far south in the Louis Riel School Division as possible, their children will likely be bused in the future to schools such as École Provencher in the north end of the division.
"We’re looking for fall 2020, but we just moved here," their mom, Jamie, said. "We know we have a zero per cent chance of ever getting into that school."
That’s because the duration of residency is a factor in getting enrolled at École Sage Creek School.
An email sent to parents who went to kindergarten information meetings this year outlines the procedure. Starting with registration for September, the division is asking parents "to provide proof of residency with the acceptable documentation to assess their eligibility for a placement at (the school)." Children whose siblings are already in the school will be first in line for enrolment.
In future years, the email said, "the length of time the parents/guardians have been residing in the Sage Creek catchment (without interruption) will determine where a child is placed in the queue for the allocated kindergarten spaces."
The Streilein family bought their lot last year and moved into their new home in January. They relocated from a rural area.
"My husband and I both work in Winnipeg, and we didn’t want to do the commute anymore," Streilein said.
"We just didn’t know about the school. The school wasn’t even open when we bought the lot... I definitely wouldn’t have moved here and now I’m considering moving again and I’ve only been here for two months. It’s just crazy."
Chris Sigurdson, chairman of the school division, said he sympathizes with the Streilein family and dozens of others in the development.
"All of our projections say we need one English and one French immersion school there," Sigurdson said.
"The NDP said, ‘Build this one first and the other one later.’ But then the government changed. One school there has never been enough. We always knew that."
The NDP lost power to the Tories in 2016. The school’s official capacity is 600 students, but 627 students registered last September. This fall, 740 students are expected.
The division has decided to convert the school’s art room and science lab into classroom space, as well as install partitions to make space in the centre of the facility into another classroom. Space is so tight that as many as three classes are using the gymnasium at the same time.
Sigurdson said they asked the province to build four portables at the school, which would have allowed all area children to attend it for at least two more years, but that was also rejected.
Sigurdson said the division decided to have parents show proof of how long they have lived in the area after hearing from residents.
"We originally were going to have a free-for-all where people would line up first-come, first-served, but the community wasn’t keen on it. They said the people who had lived there longer should have first dibs.
"We don’t know if anyone else in Canada is doing this."
Sigurdson said the closest schools to Sage Creek are also full, so the only option will be to bus the students to other schools.
"No one wants to bus students far away, but the province says use all school spaces. They don’t realize it’s a big area we have," he said.
"People come to us, but we don’t build schools. All we can do is put pressure on the provincial government."
Education Minister Ian Wishart said in a statement that "Manitoba Education and Training does not construct new schools solely in anticipation of future enrolment growth.
"While developers may promote the possibility of a future school, the announcement and construction of schools is determined by the Public Schools Finance Board."
Wishart said that board has been meeting regularly with division officials to monitor enrolment increases and make sure there is enough classroom space in existing schools for children from Sage Creek.
"It’s important to note there are approximately 500 vacant spaces in nearby schools," he said.
Wishart also said the school’s capacity "was based on student projections from the school division in advance of the design and, over the past few years, the area has continued to grow" and was one of the reasons the school’s size was increased to accommodate 600 students from the original 450 students.
Eric Vogan, Qualico’s vice-president of communities for the Winnipeg region, said Sage Creek was originally planned to have three schools, each with 400 students, but a few years later, the province said the schools had to accommodate at least 600 students.
"We were able to amend our plans to two large sites instead of three sites," Vogan said.
"The school board says we definitely need a new school and the province doesn’t disagree with the numbers, but they do not have the money due to fiscal austerity."
Vogan said when the development is completed, it will have about 3,000 single-family homes and another 1,200 to 2,000 units in townhouses and apartments. He said it is about halfway completed.
"It’s disheartening," he said about the lack of plans by the province to build a second school in the development.
"It means the kid across the street your daughter wants to play with doesn’t know which school they’ll be going to... but every homebuyer is thorough enough to investigate that decision. They all walk in knowing these are possibilities."
Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.
Louis Riel School Division Schools
Updated on Tuesday, March 13, 2018 at 3:19 PM CDT: Adds map