Safety was the hot button topic at the Prairie Land Regional Division Feb. 27 board meeting.
According to Trustee Tammy Burns, parents have been voicing concerns about school safety in the aftermath of the school shootings in Florida.
What safety measures, disaster plans and protocols are in place in the event of a school incident?
According to Superintendent Cam McKeage, each school within the division builds a plan from the Disaster Plan Administrative Procedure (AP) that is similar to Alberta Education’s plan.
At the start of each year, explained McKeage, school principals review the plan with staff, the facilities director and the superintendent with input from municipal governments and services in each community as well.
There are 17 different scenarios to review with specific procedures spelled out.
Concerning the best way to respond to school intruders, McKeage stated there are different opinions on that issue.
“Now the train of thought is to flee schools and not stay.”
Pointing to schools like Youngstown, Berry Creek and Altario which are far from the RCMP or ambulance services, Trustee Barry Davis questioned the emergency protocols.
According to McKeage, in each of those situations there is a plan in place to contact help locally.
“I think our public needs to know that,” Davis said.
Trustee Marsha Tkach agreed, adding that communicating with the parents might be a step that was being missed.
Trustees agreed that parents and communities want to know our schools are safe.
Trustees approved the draft budget guiding principles presented by Secretary-Treasurer Sharon Orum.
Reformating what was approved by the board last year, Orum explained how these foundational statements are the guidelines used to develop the budget.
Nothing new has been added.
According to Orum’s report, as of Sept. 1, 2017 there was currently $2.9 million in the accumulated operating surplus.
Since Alberta Education requires the board to not have more than $1.2 million in their operating surplus, a plan needs to be developed to spend down the surplus to that level.
With the division currently running a $480,000 deficit, Orum noted that the board must be cognisant of how fast they want to spend down the surplus.
Considering a decreasing student enrollment and teacher numbers remaining fixed or increasing over the past few years, the board is faced with some tough decisions.
Questioning the administrative and secretarial time in schools, Trustee Barry Davis asked if full-time secretaries were necessary at each school.
It was suggested that secretaries are the pulse of the schools, and not having someone at the front desk full time was unfair to staff and students and added to the safety concerns.
“What part of the day aren’t they there? What part isn’t important?” Trustee Marsh Tkach asked.
In small schools, office staff often do double duty.
“People seriously under estimate the workload support staff do.” Trustee Burns added.
Trustees discussed changing the allocation for Kindergarten.
In the face of declining enrollments, should the division find out if there is an appetite for full time Kindergarten?
It was noted that schools offering full day kindergarten programs attract students who stay with those schools into the higher grades.
By offering full day Kindergarten, would the division be doing the right thing for the students or just be providing full time child care?
The board then explored addition alternatives.
Would it be beneficial to offer daycare in Prairie Land schools or would that be competing with local community services?
Should schools explore childcare or afterschool programs so they don’t lose children to other divisions?
Was there room for value added partnerships within the division?
It was suggested that most of the division’s schools have the necessary room for additional services.
“If our school buildings work, I wish they were open to our community.” Trustee Davis remarked.
Trustees debated whether these were appropriate school board questions or community issues, agreeing to further explore the issues with their individual school councils to find out what communities want.