Unknown future for Mother Teresa School in Halkirk

East Central Alberta Catholic Separate Schools Regional Division No. 16 Superintendant Charlie McCormack (with board of trustees to his left) explaining the rationale behind their recent  notice of motion to close Halkirk’s Mother Teresa School at a Feb. 18 meeting in Halkirk.  ECA Review/D.Clark

The community of Halkirk hosted a potluck for the East Central Alberta Catholic Separate Schools Region Division No. 16 (ECACS) Superintendent and trustees on Thurs., Feb. 18 to discuss the future of Mother Teresa School in Halkirk.

The ECACS board proposed to close the school and transfer the 30 current Mother Teresa Grade 1 to 9 students to Castor’s Theresetta School 20 km away.

In response to the potential closure, Halkirk’s community members attended the meeting on Feb. 18 to not only hear the reasons behind the suggested closure offered by ECACS but to also voice their concerns, ask questions and put forth their own rebuttal against the closure including a list of potential solutions for the ECACS consideration to keep the school open.

Charlie McCormack, Superintendent of ECACS provided the following information as background for the notice of motion to close.

In 1997 Clearview School Division closed Halkirk School.  However, after much debate and negotiation ECACS purchased the school for $100,000 despite the tough conditions from Alberta Education and opened Mother Teresa School in September 1997 with 60 students.

Unfortunately by 2004 the student population had dropped to 39 students and the Board considered closing the school.

The Board was presented with a bill for $88,000 for transportation over two year period, 2002 – 2004.

In 2002 – 2003 the division spent $43,557 to repair the school roof.

Over the period 2000 – 2004 the division funded a deficit of $70,330 in operations and maintenance. In January 2004, the Board served a notice of motion to close the school.

In a letter dated Feb 17, 2004, the division set out the parameters for continuing to operate the school:  One of the conditions was a population of at least 40 students. For the past three years the population has been less than 40 students.

During the 2008 – 2009 year $372,186 was spent on cabling, wiring, demolition and hazardous material monitoring.  In addition, in 2008 – 2009, $9,449 was spent on a sign, $23,930 was spent in 2012 – 2013 on interior wall repairs and $34,137.60 was spent in 2013-2014 to repair the roof.

In 2015-2016 Mother Teresa qualified for 2.3 Full Time Equivalent (FTE) teachers and following presentations by parents, increased to 3.05. With 31 – 34 students projected for the 2016 – 2017 year Mother Teresa would only qualify for 2.0 funded FTE teachers.

In addition, a New Facility Assessment Report received Feb. 9, 2016 which was completed by Group 2 Architecture Architectural, Electrical, stated that over one millions dollars was required on mechanical and structural   upgrades.

The ECACS had copies of the report available for the public that evening.

McCormack concluded by saying that for the past 17 years, ECACS has managed to keep Mother Teresa School open.  However, the current student population, the costs of effective educational programming, operation and maintenance and cost to repair the facility no longer makes the school viable.

Therefore, the board has passed a motion to consider transferring all the students to Theresetta School effective September 2016.

Community’s input

A number of community members spoke that evening and shared with the board their personal experiences, such as former student Jacey Gamroth.  Gamroth is now a university student and only upon leaving Mother Teresa was she aware as to how much teachers paid attention to you at small village school she attended from grades one through nine.

The doubled classes allowed for an opportunity to learn independently which she said serves well later in life, specifically the workplace.

Gamroth also spoke about how she had to play sports otherwise the school wouldn’t have a team, and this forces students who might not otherwise attempt sports to learn healthy lifestyle habits as well as how to work as a team.
JD Johnson spoke on behalf of the concerned parents committee and shared some of their solutions for the potential operating deficient.  Their suggestions included a donation of $25,000 from other Catholic schools within their division as well as at least $10,000 as a goal for community fundraising.

Paintearth County Councillor Doreen Blumhagen inquired about what regulations existed pertaining to the governing of donating funds to schools.

The board informed those in attendance Thursday night that Alberta Education frowns upon the community paying for teachers in order to keep wealthier communities from “buying” teachers.

The board went on to say that instructional items such as paper for the photocopiers and text books are also off limits. However the community can donate books for the library.

JD Johnson shared his fears for losing a school in a small community like Halkirk.  That its loss would leave a hole that cannot be filled and that doesn’t begin to speak to the ripple effects, such as the impact on local businesses and the community in general.  There is no way to attach a value to how much losing the school would affect the community.

“Kids are seeking a community and long to belong”, Johnson said.

Kevin Perry said, “Kids need faith and morals.”  Both parents argued that Mother Teresa provides students with just those things.

At the end of the meeting, during a one-on-one interview with the ECA Review, McCormack said with a tear in his eye, that he doesn’t wake up in the morning hoping to close schools.  Especially in a village as warm-hearted and supportive as Halkirk.

The next three weeks the ACECS will accept any information the public feels important to share with the board as it pertains to the decision to close the school.

The motion will be debated and voted upon at their March meeting.

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