Clearview considers closing schools

Three small schools in the Clearview School Division face potential closure, the board revealed at a meeting last Thursday.

Three small schools in the Clearview School Division face potential closure, the board revealed at a meeting last Thursday.

Byemoor, Donalda and Brownfield schools are in jeopardy of being closed, because of mounting financial losses, the board reported at its regular meeting.

Peter Simons, one of the trustees, introduced a motion of “closure,” which under the provincial School Act could mean the elimination of an entire school or “a program or block of grades.”

After debating the issue, the board decided to postpone further consideration of the possible closures until its Nov. 15 meeting. That 2:30 p.m. meeting is open to the public.

In his motion, Simons proposed the shutdowns because the board “has not received sufficient financial information from division administration to appropriately assess the viability of small schools within the division,” he said.

“The division cannot continue operating at the status quo, due to an estimated operating deficit of approximately $900,000 in the 2011-12 financial year and a budgeted operating deficit of $1,760,000 in the 2012-13 financial year.”

The board also directed superintendent John Bailey to prepare a report on the potential school closures, in compliance “with all requirements related to school closures stipulated by the School Act.”

At last week’s meeting, trustees agreed the board needs community input before deciding whether to close schools.

“I’m not ready to support closing schools — parents and the community will tell us when they want them closed,” Karen Holloway said.

“We need community consultations — we have to talk to parents first,” Cheri Neitz said.

Patty Dittrick said it’s important that the quality of education not be compromised in the process.

“This isn’t us going out to say we are closing schools, but I don’t want students attending a school where they won’t receive an excellent education,” she said. “I don’t want to be like Battle River (School Division), where they had a school with 51 students at the beginning of September and two at the end.”

Yvette Cassidy said there might be ways to keep the schools open — and still make the necessary changes.

“Perhaps we could look at schools remaining as they are, with some realignment or reconfiguration of grades,” she said.

The three schools under review offer kindergarten to Grade 9 education, though there are no Grade 9 students in Byemoor.

Rhonda Maginn, the trustee who serves the Byemoor and Botha school communities, expressed confidence in the education provided at small schools.

“I feel very strongly that rural schools can offer our children a wonderful educational experience,” Maginn said.