“We can’t sit still and do nothing. Sometimes choices are difficult, but you’ve got to make them. And you’ve got to make them to better the whole, not just a small portion.”
— Brandon School Division trustee Doug Karnes
After three public consultation meetings and a great deal of discussion ’round the board table, the Brandon School Division board bit the bullet and made some difficult decisions.
Just as they were elected to do.
On Monday, the board approved a four-point plan to deal with increasing enrolment pressures, specifically overcrowding at École New Era School.
As part of the plan, a group of English program students from New Era will be reassigned to Earl Oxford School for the new school year next September.
There are currently about 120 English program students transferred to New Era by school bus from the neighbourhood north of the CP Rail tracks, between 18th Street and First Street.
However, the decision didn’t sit well with a few trustees at the table, nor with the school’s program co-ordinator, Delvina Kejick.
Many core-area families rely on cultural programs at New Era and are very connected with the school, Kejick said.
“Programs are not easily replicated or easily moved,” she told the Sun.
Among the other three points of the plan that were approved, the board will:
• Request additional portable classrooms from the Public Schools Finance Board for schools with the greatest need.
• Study the possibility of accommodating additional French immersion students at École Harrison to ease New Era’s enrolment pressure.
• Have discussions with Assiniboine Community College and Manitoba Education regarding the idea to use unused shop spaces at ACC’s Victoria Avenue East campus for BSD industrial arts, home economics and other programs.
Whether these latter three points in the plan actually take place remains to be seen, but it strikes us that immediate movement of students from New Era to Earl Oxford is the only tangible option available to the board at the present time.
As the Sun has reported, enrolment continues to rise in the division and several schools are at or near capacity. Current enrolment is at 8,232 — that’s an additional 309 students, compared to September 2011. The division projects that increasing trend to only continue.
By 2016, an estimated 13 additional classrooms will be required for grades 4 to 8, while an additional 12 high school classrooms will be needed by 2017.
In kindergarten to Grade 3, a projected 66 additional classrooms will be needed by 2016, due to both population growth as well as meeting a provincial mandate to cap K-3 classes at 20 students.
But overcrowding at New Era is the most acute and the board was forced to act.
When this part of the plan was introduced during one of the public consultation meetings held at the North End Community Centre, it met with stiff resistance from students and parents.
“For me, to leave all this behind and start in my last year at Earl Oxford, I just couldn’t go through that,” said Grade 7 student Lulu Garcia, who was worried she would have to start Grade 8 at New Era.
We sympathize with Garcia, and all students from New Era who will have to make the transition. No one wants to be separated from friends, and it’s difficult and tumultuous to start over in another school.
But as BSD board chair Mark Sefton noted, it’s probably better to be reassigned to another school where there is available space, rather than be lost in a sea of students in an overcrowded school.
Currently there appears to be little political incentive for the NDP to build a new school in this city — even though the province has millions available for stadiums and convention centres in Winnipeg — so the division has been left to make tough choices, no matter how unpopular they are.
Don’t blame the trustees on this one — they’re just trying to make the best of a difficult situation.