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Thursday, 23 March 2017 08:00

School trustees hear from New Brigden community

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Prairie Rose School Division Board Chair Stuart Angle, left, speaks at the public meeting in New Brigden, March 20, regarding the possible closure of the school.  Behind him from left are Ryan Boser, secretary-treasurer, Kal Koch, deputy superintendent, and Brian Andjelic, superintendent. Prairie Rose School Division Board Chair Stuart Angle, left, speaks at the public meeting in New Brigden, March 20, regarding the possible closure of the school. Behind him from left are Ryan Boser, secretary-treasurer, Kal Koch, deputy superintendent, and Brian Andjelic, superintendent. Photo by Rose Sanchez

Those families in New Brigden who are passionate about their small school staying open continue to make their point to a board of trustees who will be faced with making a decision about the rural school at an upcoming meeting in April.

As part of a notice of closure of New Brigden School motion that was made by Prairie Rose School Division (PRSD) trustees in January, a public meeting was held in the community a half hour north of Oyen March 20.
It was a chance for central office administration to present information about how the school division came to a notice of closure as well as sharing information around projected enrolment and current and estimated costs of operating the school in the coming years.
All trustees were in attendance in the gymnasium of the school for the two-hour meeting, where parents and interested area residents could ask their own questions and express their opinions and concerns.
There were many questions raised by the more than 70 people in attendance, which spanned all ages and families with children attending the school, not yet in school, and even a few who have chosen to enrol their children in other schools. Those questions were around funding and how administration derived their numbers which used division-wide averages as well as concerns around the board granting approval for busing for students who live in the New Brigden area, but that transports them to Oyen schools.
One parent said he felt like division officials had “stacked the numbers” against the school by using averages which may not be the actual costs in New Brigden, thus building a case for school closure.
“These are favourable numbers in this situation to the actual costs,” said Ryan Boser, secretary-treasurer.
“We’re not trying to fudge the numbers,” said Kal Koch, deputy superintendent, who added if actual numbers were used for New Brigden, some of them could be higher than the averages that were shown.
Administration pointed out the concerns around privacy laws and sharing information that makes contractors or staff easily identifiable. Boser added the actual numbers can be shared with board trustees, which he will do, just not in a larger format like at a public meeting.
School division officials were questioned about everything from their years of service and how many times they have been at New Brigden School; how funding works if Prairie Rose students attend the Catholic schools in the area; how the division arrived at its projected enrolments and busing decisions in the area.
Three scenarios were presented that evening for the future of the school, which started the year with two students, but now has four. Status quo and keeping New Brigden a grades 1 to 9 facility would result in a deficit for the school division of just under $400,000 over the next five years. If the school were to be closed, the division would see a savings of just over $500,000 over the next five years. A third option presented was closing just the junior-high program, creating a grades 1-6 facility. This option would result in an estimated savings of about $125,000 over five years.
Enrolment numbers for New Brigden are based on families in the area who have children that are not yet school age. They show enrolment at six in 2017/18; 13 in 2018/19; 17, then 22 and climbing to 25 in 2021/22.
The situation in New Brigden was described by both administration and people in the crowd as fluid and constantly changing.
Administration offered up options for busing related to all three scenarios as well as spoke about what would happen to the building if the school were closed (building could be sold; ownership transferred to the community or municipality; or the building mothballed).
PRSD officials clarified for the crowd numerous times that the busing boundaries were not opened up in New Brigden.
“Attendance area boundaries were not opened,” said Superintendent Brian Andjelic. “We dealt with each individual family and approved individual families to attend Oyen.”
One family who left New Brigden and requested busing to Oyen, said it wouldn’t matter if they couldn’t access a bus, they would still drive their children to school in Oyen instead of staying in the community. He said his children are excelling in Oyen and gaining valuable social skills they couldn’t if they attended a school with such low enrolment. He spoke about the divisions that have opened up in the community around New Brigden attendance and busing, as the tension in the room elevated and people began talking over one another.
Andjelic asked the audience to be respectful of one another and avoid bringing up the past.
“Talking about the past is not helpful,” he said. “The motion was not to open the boundary. If trustees chose to, they could go to each family .... but I think that train has left. This detracts from the purpose of this meeting which is to explore the future of New Brigden School ... We need to move forward.”
More questions were asked by the residents whether any research has been done by division officials about how students have faired in later years in larger schools after their small rural schools were closed, such as in Cereal and Bindloss.
Andjelic said no academic results research has been done, but follow-up with parents a few years after school closures, has shown many would choose not to send their children back to that small school.
Questions were also asked about how colony schools operate and the size of classes at Oyen schools. Residents expressed concern that school closures are being driven by enrolment numbers, rather than what is best for students, which many said is a small school.
“There are parents here who do not have kids in school yet. There is a huge group of parents with a big group of kids (coming up). We want the small class. Small is better. There is nothing about this school (New Brigden) that scares us. (Our children) will thrive here,” said one parent.
Administration assured those in attendance that no information is held back from the board of trustees.
“Members of your community have already presented to the board,” added Andjelic. “That presentation was very clear around their desire around the school remaining open in one way or another.”
Andjelic was asked whether parents can do anything more to impress upon the board their passion for the school remaining open. He said he isn’t sure what parents can do over and above what they are already doing.
“For a trustee it becomes ... how small is too small,” he added. “There are varying opinions on that. The opinion coming from this community is strong ... clearly you are recruiting students and getting letters of support. What’s that balance between education and cost. You’ve done a great job of trying to make your point to the board in a very respectful way ...”
The Friends of New Brigden School has been created in the community.
Simone Hagens, a parent with two children, one of whom is enrolled at the school and another in kindergarten, said after the meeting the small group has been working hard on an action plan that has been shared with the board. It includes recruiting new families with children to the area, seeing revitalization of the school and community as well as seeking out funding commitments for the next two years to carry the school through the time of lower enrolment numbers.
At the public meeting, they shared they have a commitment of $70,000 over two years for the school which they secured in three weeks. Administration said the board is definitely interested in hearing more about funding options, but added outside funding can’t be used toward staffing costs which is always the biggest expense at any school.
“Our school is the heart of our community. We truly believe this school will offer (our children) the best education they can get ...,” said one parent, before a group of school supporters showed a slideshow that included photos of children and families who are attending or will attend New Brigden School.
Administration invited more input from the community. Written submissions regarding the school are being accepted until March 27 to Boser (send email to: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ) which will be shared with trustees. The board is also accepting presentations from delegations on March 28 in the afternoon at central office. Appointments for delegation spots can be made by emailing Boser.
The board will discuss and make a decision regarding New Brigden School at the April 11 regular board meeting, which starts at 10 a.m. that day.

Read 1295 times Last modified on Wednesday, 22 March 2017 15:34
Rose Sanchez

Assistant Managing Editor