Schools in Red Deer are bursting at the seams as an onslaught of students fill many of the southside elementary schools. As 11 people vie for the seven trustee seats on the Red Deer Public School District board, how to get the schools that are needed in Red Deer is one of the major campaign concerns.
Incumbent Cathy Peacocke said it’s an ongoing battle to have enough student spaces. She said the public school district needs at least one more school to accommodate the needs of students in the southeast part of the city, but she would prefer even more were built.
Bev Manning, who is trying for a sixth term, said the school board has been proactive at lobbying, but there have been no announcements from the province. She said although modular portable classrooms have eased some of the pressure, they are not a long-term solution.
Bill Stuebing, who has served five terms on the public school board, said it isn’t just about having space for the students coming in the future but the students who are there now, with the schools being well over capacity. “Crunch time is upon us,” Stuebing said. “One of the things the new board is going to have to deal with is accommodating students in southeast Red Deer because we are on the verge of being out of space.”
A Regional Capital Planning Study draft involving four Central Albertan School school divisions, released in May, suggested new schools be built for the Red Deer Public and the Red Deer Catholic Regional School Division, among other recommendations.
Kaliana Johnston, a new candidate who chairs the citywide school council, said the issue of getting new schools needs to be dealt with as quickly as possible. The council has determined the City of Red Deer could use three new schools. “What it boils down to in my opinion is the squeaky wheel gets the grease. . . . So we need trustees to keep this in the government’s face and I plan on being a very squeaky wheel,” she said.
New candidate Bill Christie, who has about 25 years of experience as a school trustee in British Columbia, said pushing for a new school could be a matter of parents, staff, local community, the City of Red Deer and parents groups getting together to present their ideas to MLAs and the government to bring the issue to the forefront.
Trustee candidate Matt Chapin doesn’t just see having a new school as an issue but also class size. He would like the board to reduce class sizes throughout the grades.
“I’m not that too far out of public school myself,” said Chapin, who at 24 is the youngest public school trustee candidate. “The class sizes are too big for the teachers and for the best educational purposes for the kids, we can’t really have 30 or 40 kids in a classroom. I want to work my hardest to get lower classes per teacher because it will put less stress on the teachers and the kids.”
Chapin would also like to see a high school built in north Red Deer so students don’t have to be bused so far.
New candidate Lisa Johnston sees new schools and lowering class sizes as critical issues. She chairs the Striving for Excellence Dinner for the Foundation for Red Deer Public Schools and said it can be hard for students to ask for the help they need when classes become that large.
She said the board needs to get parents involved in lobbying the provincial government for new schools. (She and trustee candidate Kaliana Johnston are not related.)
Incumbent Lawrence Lee, who has served two terms on the board, said priorities need to be determined by the local community and they should be funded through a mechanism that meets those priorities. Lee said it is a matter of helping the government identify where the local pressure points are.
Other candidates who are running for the Red Deer Public board are: incumbent Dianne Macaulay, Lianne Kruger and Dick Lemke.