by EVAN MATTHEWS
McBride Centennial Elementary may be shut down for the 2017-18 school year. School District 57 is currently discussing the potential of moving elementary school students under the same roof as the secondary school.
Sharon Cairns, superintendent of schools for School District 57, says it has to do with the occupancy rates of the schools. The elementary school is currently operating at an occupancy rate of roughly 53 per cent, while the secondary school is operating at less than half.
Cairns says McBride Elementary is the only school in the division being considered for co-location. She estimates the closure would save the division upward of $150,000 annually.
Karen Dube, chairperson of McBride’s Parent Advisory Council (PAC), says she would have preferred some direct contact from school division rather than having read a news brief.
“I have direct communication with some of the board members, and nothing has been mentioned about this,” says Dube. “I’m not opposed to the concept of K – 12, but I do think the community needs to be consulted.”
Cairns says all the division has done is given public notice about consultations.
“We’ve actually barely started this process.”
The expectation is that McBride Centennial School will be operating as normal for the coming 2016-2017 school year, Cairns says.
If a decision to close the school were to be made, she says the elementary school wouldn’t close until the 2017-2018 school year.
It’s about weighing the renovation expenditures versus savings related to closing the elementary school altogether, according to Dube. The secondary school is in need of significant renovations such as washrooms built next to a kindergarten class, which is a mandatory renovation.
“In (the secondary school’s) current state, it’s not ready for the kids to move into by any stretch,” says Dube.
Co-location isn’t just about saving money and closing a school, and Cairns suggests there are positives to come along with co-locating.
“It allows the Grade 7s to access electives at the secondary school,” says Cairns. “Electives become viable because more kids want to take them, so there are benefits to it.”
The school division released its Long Range Facilities Plan in May of 2015. The purpose of the plan is to provide the basis for investment decisions based on student population, among other things.
The report states, “Both schools in McBride will have low capacity utilization rates, with a significant decrease in enrolment at McBride Secondary.”
It goes on to say the best option is to consider co-locating McBride Elementary at McBride Secondary, but only if enrolment at both schools continues to decline.
Yet, the report’s student population projections show something different.
McBride Centennial Elementary’s student population is projected to be consistent over the next eight years — McBride Secondary School’s population expects an almost a 50 per cent decline by 2024. As students graduate from the high school, they are not being replaced by incoming students from the elementary school.
No matter what the division decides, Dube says including the community in the decision is the most important aspect.
“The local community has a lot of positive things to contribute, but there will be some anger and frustration,” says Dube. “The concept isn’t wrong in anyway, but it would be useful for the community to see the numbers.”
If the process is done well, Dube says it could turn out to be a really positive thing.
“We have to be realistic with the number of students we have in the valley,” says Dube. “I want it done well and in a way that’s respectful to local people, and is best for students.”
Co-location in Valemount isn’t likely, Cairns says, as the secondary school has a much lower student capacity than McBride’s.