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Schools avoid closure

Three schools have staved off possible closure within a Stettler-area school district.

On Nov. 15, the board of Clearview Public Schools defeated a motion to study whether it was best to close or reconfigure classes within the schools of Byemoor, Brownfield and Donalda.

Trustee Peter Simons originally brought the motion forward on Oct. 25 but it was postponed for more discussion.

A standing-room audience of about 75 people, representing three school delegations, attended the November meeting.

Simons voted in favour of proceeding with the study but the remaining six trustees voted against it.

Board chairman Ken Checkel said these schools could still face closure down the road if enrolments further decline.

Donalda School has about 55 students, so that’s actually a pretty good size, Checkel said. But when enrolments slip below 30, as is the case with Byemoor and Brownfield, it’s tougher to justify.

“On the other hand, it’s not all doom and gloom,” said Checkel.

If a school can make its budget work, has good staff and support from the community, then this bodes well for them.

“When we had the delegations come in, we saw great support . . . so as far as I’m concerned they can keep their schools as long as they want them,” Checkel said. “We had to make a decision as a board, so for now those schools don’t have to worry about closure this year.”

Tasha Jaffray, president of the parent council at Donalda School, said the board’s decision takes the strain off the school.

“With a small community, people start looking at the possibility of the school closing and it scares them,” said Jaffray. “I’m very happy with the outcome.”

Jaffray went to Donalda School and now her daughter attends the school. She said it’s an amazing experience for a child because they get one-on-one with the teachers and the staff really get to know each child’s personality.

The board approved a motion on Nov. 15 to visit each school and hold community meetings by June 2013.

The board will present the district’s overall financial situation, plus the money situation within each school. It will look at how best to save money through the region.

The projected deficit for 2012-2013 is $998,000. School districts can draw from reserves to cover deficits but those same savings are being depleted.

“We get almost all our funding from the provincial government and all their funding formulas are pretty well based on student numbers,” said Checkel.

Student numbers have been declining slowly over the years, so less provincial dollars come through. It affects schools and the school district as a whole, he said.

Checkel said he believes all rural school districts in Central Alberta are seeing student numbers, and funding, decline.

“We’re having to make cuts every year,” he said.

Checkel said they’ve tried to pitch different funding formulas to Alberta Education but nothing has really been done about it.



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