Catchment areas, class sizes and buses to schools outside a student’s neighbourhood are all possible solutions under consideration in southwest Winnipeg after Pembina Trails School Division's request for portable classrooms was denied.
The province has asked divisions dealing with high enrolment to maximize space and fill open seats in other classrooms within their borders instead of approving trailer-classroom requests.
Last week, Pembina Trails was notified that once again, its request for four portables at South Pointe School had been rejected, even though the school is nearly 80 students over capacity.
The Public School Finance Board had previously denied the request, but the division appealed the decision due to mounting concerns about overflowing classrooms in the K-8, dual-track school in southwest Winnipeg. The school has already converted its "makerspace" area — a collaboration-friendly room teachers were previously able to reserve — into a classroom.
"We are running out of space, quickly," superintendent Ted Fransen told trustees during a board meeting last Thursday. "We’re adding 500 students a year across the division, and I wouldn’t want to use the word ‘exclusively,’ but they’re almost exclusively in the south end."
According to South Pointe's website, there are currently 954 students enrolled in the school designed for 875 pupils. The division projects that number to climb to 990 in 2020-21, although enrolment fluctuates constantly as families move in and out of the area.
The province informed the division last Thursday it — and all 36 others in Manitoba — is expected to "use all available empty seats" and respect the 60-minute bus ride trip limit, Fransen said.
The province informed the division last Thursday it ‐ and all 36 others in Manitoba ‐ is expected to "use all available empty seats" and respect the 60–minute bus ride trip limit.
A provincial spokesperson echoed that justification in an emailed statement to the Free Press Tuesday. "Most portable requests can be avoided when divisions undertake a space evaluation and maximize the space they have available," the spokesperson wrote, adding each portable costs $350,000 each to deliver and install.
Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen was not made available for an interview Tuesday.
Administrators are now in the process of coming up with options for South Pointe, to be presented to the board at the end of the month.
Suggestions raised at Thursday's meeting included adjusting catchments while using a grandfathering model, temporary classroom size increases and busing students to schools outside of their neighbourhoods, which could affect transportation and staffing costs.
Also on the table, implementing the "leapfrog" method, in which several division catchments are altered to potentially increase travel for everyone, but ensure no one has a bus ride that exceeds an hour.
"We really have been put into a corner," trustee Dianne Zuk said during the meeting, adding the board received the notice after the draft budget was tabled. Zuk and her colleagues questioned whether there’s time to do any meaningful consultation with community members who will be affected.
Pembina Trails' recommended class size for K-4 is 24. Schools strive for a 29 or fewer student-to-teacher ratio for Grades 5 through 8.
"Those are manageable numbers, but in some areas in the south end of the province, we have some classes that are larger than that," said Bob Mauthe, president of the Pembina Trails Teachers’ Association.
Mauthe said it's crucial the province build the schools it has promised in order to alleviate crowding. Four schools are slated to be built in the Waverley West community, which is roughly the size of Brandon.
Despite its population, Fransen said there will be only 10 schools directly serving the community when all are built — compared to 23 in the Brandon School Division. "We are providing a first-class education as efficiently as possible," he said.
The province’s latest enrolment report indicates Pembina Trails' population increased by 3.6 per cent between 2017-18 and 2018-19. A total of 505 students joined the division during that time, while every other metro division saw enrolment rise by fewer than half that number.
A majority of Winnipeg divisions haven’t put in any requests for portables in recent months. An outlier, Alain Laberge with the Division scolaire franco-manitobaine, said he is hopeful the province will approve the division's most recent requests for portables after rejecting five last year.
French schools have been dividing classrooms and turning libraries, lunchrooms and music rooms into classrooms amid restraints.
"We try to be creative," Laberge said.
The province did not provide details about the number of portable requests received or the rejected number during the last year.
Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.
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