ECA Review Reporter
Cheers met the defeat of a motion to examine the closure of three area schools at a recent Clearview School Board meeting. Nearly 100 concerned citizens from Donalda, Brownfield and Byemoor packed the board meeting in Stettler on Thursday, November 15. The motion, proposed by Trustee Peter Simons, sought to examine closing the schools in order to offset the nearly $700,000 deficit in the upcoming budget. The delegations were emotionally charged, with some delegates breaking down in tears giving heartfelt pleas to save their schools. Emotions also ran high in the audience, who showed their displeasure for the motion by muttering and jeering throughout the meeting.
Trustee Simons, who represents schools in the town of Stetter, originally proposed the school closure motion during the school board’s regular meeting on Thursday, October 25.
“This motion is not, and never has been, about permanently closing any of the schools,” said Simons, who agreed that while the motion was indeed unpopular, the cost savings of reexamining the schools’ role in the board was worth investigating.
“Those who feel there are no cost savings in closing the schools… I would suggest you are very wrong,” said Simons, whose comment garnered angry mutterings and laughter from the audience.
Delegates, and indeed some of Simons’ fellow trustees, felt that introducing the motion was badly timed and counter productive.
“Once a motion is put forward by an irresponsible board and is not dealt with, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy,” said Brad Mappin, a delegate representing Byemoor. “A school has a potential to lose students due to the unknown that’s perpetuated by the board.”
“If the board decides to close the three schools, there will be a higher repair and maintenance costs on the buses,” said Mappin. “There would also be higher fuel and driver costs associated with that,” Mappin suggested that while closing a small school may initially balance the numbers on a ledger sheet, the long term financial costs outweigh any short term benefit.
“We are defending a school that does not need to be defended,” said Jordan Webber, a former student of Brownfield Community School and concerned parent. “If you think you can save money by closing our school, you are vastly mistaken. That thinking has proven to be erroneous over and over by the merger and centralization movement across North America.”
Beth Fulton, a delegate from Donalda, felt that the board needed to speak to the affected communities to find ways to save money.
“We agree with you that the division cannot continue to operate with a deficit budget,” Fulton said. “We encourage you to conduct community consultations in order to aid in balancing the budget.”
Other concerns brought up by the delegates included the students’ increased amount of time spent away from home, the risks of spending extra time commuting on school buses, an increased student to teacher ratio and concerns that existing schools wouldn’t be able to handle extra students.
Support for the motion was also lacking among the trustees.
“The need to invoke a school closure motion to get information is overkill,” said Trustee Karen Holloway, who represents Castor. “I don’t think it’s a good process to go through to get information because of the stress it puts on small communities.”
Rhonda Maginn, who is the trustee for the threatened Byemoor school, wanted the board to concentrate on the public meetings that the board had agreed to undertake.
Patty Dittrick, trustee for schools in Stettler, said that measures must be taken soon before the board suffers a financial disaster.
“As a board, we are coming closer to hitting a financial wall,” said Dittrick. “The question is how soon we hit that wall, and how hard.”
Dittrick felt that school closure motions don’t differentiate between a school closure and a reconfiguration. She felt that keeping the status quo isn’t feasible, and measures needed to be taken to ensure long term viability.
Trustee Simons, in response to his fellow trustees comments, reiterated that his motion was to get more information from administration regarding the viability of keeping the schools open.
“It looked like we’d be talking about going out and talking for the rest of the year,” said Simons. “I really didn’t have any interest in that whatsoever.”
“Four trustees are not willing to support the closure motion, we’re aware that it’s not going to pass” Simons said. He then withdrew his motion, prompting board chair Ken Checkel to end discussion and call for an immediate vote. The motion was defeated, with the lone vote in favour coming from Trustee Simons.
A motion was then proposed by Trustee Holloway, officially calling for community consultations with the local school councils to begin in the new year. This motion passed unanimously.
Donalda Mayor Bruce Gartside was pleased with the result.
“We didn’t feel that they were going to find a savings just in considering the closure of three small schools,” said Mayor Gartside. “We felt the resources were better spent looking [for savings] throughout the whole division.”
“We’re not impressed with the process,” said Brownfield delegate Jordan Webber. “Our community was unduly threatened. We hope that we can work together with the Clearview board in the most positive way possible. “
“At the end of the day, the task we have at the local level is to be diligent with the funds they allot us. Our concern is, we have always done this, and yet we still come to these places.