When the United Conservative Party (UCP) tabled their $58.7 billion budget on October 24, school boards across the province were faced with a $8.2 billion funding freeze for education until 2022.
The government did promise a 2.2 per cent increase in instructional services by 2022-23 to account for enrolment growth, but according to Rocky View Schools (RVS) board chair Fiona Gilbert, the board’s enrolment grew by 3.8 per cent, or 923 students.
Two and two doesn’t make a five. The math isn’t adding up.
After exhausting their abacus, RVS reported that they’re $10 million dollars shy of balancing their books for the current school year. The pains of this shortcoming will emerge in different ways over 2020. Stay tuned.
For now, the pain is evident in the enrolment numbers and subsequent lack of space.
RVS’s 12 local schools in Cochrane have seen an annual increase of about 250 students. Eight of the 12 schools are nearing or over their preliminary utilization rate. RancheView School, in the community of Sunset Ridge, is at 101 per cent.
Gilbert explained that when utilization rates exceed 85 per cent, specialized program spaces like the band room, the drama room, the shop and/or the learning commons, start to be used as regular classroom spaces limiting the use of the specialized spaces for their intended purpose.
When the utilization rates get to 100 per cent or more, schools need to get very creative and use every little bit of space they can for learning spaces including hallways, breakout spaces, gymnasium, and shared classrooms.
Note too, RancheView School only opened their doors the fall of 2016. It’s difficult to understand why the board and province didn’t anticipate that a growing community like Sunset Ridge would warrant more space. Did they miscalculate, or were they given the bare minimum of funding from the province before the school was approved for construction in 2013? These are the questions parents are asking.
In the interim the school was given a modular classroom to help with the crunch. The board requested 39 portables from the province in October, 2018. If the request had been fulfilled, RancheView School would have received four portables and six would have gone to Bow Valley High School. Gilbert said the board is still asking for three more modular classrooms for RancheView School for the coming 2020/21 school years.
Parents are also frustrated that crowding at Cochrane’s RVS schools might mean a change in attendance boundaries. Families that moved to our town and selected a community to make their home are faced with the prospect of moving their children to a different school. Relationships and connections between their children, peers and teachers will be fractured. Our children are stuck in the middle of a dilemma with no resolution in sight. This isn’t right.
Concerned parents are encouraged to contact the board via email and attend a second consultation on Feb. 25 at Mitford School at 7 p.m. The first consultation took place at RancheView School on Jan. 16. The board will take all of the feedback from the first consultation, along with feedback submitted via email, and present options and seek further feedback at the second meeting in February.
The best we can do now is reach out to the board and trust that they will make the best decision in the best interests of our children.