Trustees fielded questions from the public for the first time since announcing they are looking at school closures.
On Monday, after School District 67 presented the McNicoll Park Middle School community with options to deal with budgetary pressures caused by dwindling capacities levels, about two dozen people were permitted to ask questions.
There was a short discussion about the possibility of Syrian refugees offsetting enrolment numbers, questions as to why one student was denied admission because of enrolment, and trustees were told about benefits of receiving education at smaller schools.
Lila Parson, whose grandchildren used to attend McNicoll, asked the trustees what direction they were leaning towards for the school. Trustee Bruce Johnson said the board’s aim was to gather as much information as possible before their decision on what school closure options is made on Jan. 30, 2016.
“I wanted them to say what their idea was as to what’s going to happen to McNicoll, but they just sat there and didn’t say anything. Now I have to wonder what their thoughts are,” Parsons said. “They could at least give us a little bit of an idea of what their thoughts are.”
The district has gauged long-term trends and forecasted student enrolment up to 2025. There were 5,661 students enrolled at SD67 at the start of the school year, and that number is only expected to fluctuate by less than 100 over the next 10 school years.
Because the long-term forecast doesn’t account for unfolding current events, Parsons asked about the possibility of Syrian immigrants increasing the student population.
“It’s not likely they’ll be filling up the capacity at all,” superintendent Wendy Hyer said. “We have 2,000 empty seats, we won’t be getting that number of kids coming to the area.”
Hyer said the district began dialogue with Ministry of Education on Tuesday about how they should expect enrolment to be affected.
Jaennine Caine has one daughter attending McNicoll and another who will start Grade 6 there next year if it doesn’t close. She said her younger daughter is hopeful she’ll attend the same middle school as her older sister.
Caine asked about the effect the facilities plan might have on funding for the Aboriginal Education Enhancement Agreement, which she heard was possibly being considered for cuts.
“There’s no way that the Aboriginal Educational Enhancement Agreement funding will be pushed to the wayside,” said Chair Linda Van Alphen, adding that the program is supported by a separate funding source. “That’s a scary rumour to be out there.”
Caine’s older daughter, Luna Caine-McKay, addressed the board with confusion about the low enrolment, claiming her cousin applied to attend McNicoll, but was rejected because of a high capacity.
“If you’re saying there’s not enough students but you won’t let them in, that doesn’t make sense,” she said.
Hyer responded that the student did not reside in the catchment area and the classrooms were full for her grade. She added students are only accepted outside of the jurisdiction if there is adequate space and resources.
Hyer also said that because the district’s budget costs are 85 per cent spent on its faculty, staffing will have to be impacted if no closures or configurations are made.
“If we don’t change our facility plan from this then that means looking at how we can cut staff, and that ultimately means cutting students services and student support,” she said. “It’s a difficult decision for the board to make.”
The next public consultation meeting happens on Dec. 3 at Giant’s Head Elementary at 7 p.m.