March 23rd, 2018

PRSD Ward 4 candidates discuss school closures

By Tim Kalinowski on October 13, 2017.

The Prairie Rose School Division’s Ward 4 (Redcliff-Ralston-Jenner) is the only ward under contest during this year’s municipal election.

Three candidates are vying for two seats, Arnold Frank, Pam Cursons and Meredith Conboy. The News recently polled each for responses to certain challenging issues facing Ward 4. On the issue of possible future rural school closures, each candidate expressed unease at having to potentially make such a decision.

“Because I recognize the impact our decision can have on the families and the community,” says Cursons. “It is critical to collect and analyze all the data, communicate with all the stakeholders, consider all other options presented and then ask, ‘Is this what is best for our students and our division?'”

Veteran trustee Arnold Frank has already had to deal with such a situation.

“When it comes to making the difficult decision of closing a school, which we realize is often the hub of a small community, the board takes the criteria of cost per student, quality of learning opportunities and the costs of sustaining the learning environment into consideration,” says Frank.

Meredith Conboy says she would have three considerations: How many families would be affected? What are the other options for schooling? And could an agreement to cost-share be entered into with local governments to keep the school open?

“I don’t believe it is ever ideal to close a school but sometimes the big picture needs to be considered,” says Conboy.

Bus transport is the highest cost within the PRSD budget outside instruction, and has become crippling in some ways to the division’s budget with no new money coming from the provincial government. Frank says there are no easy answers to the problem.

“As a trustee I rely on the school’s administration to provide accurate information on which options are best for the students when it comes to providing transportation,” he says. “Whether a deficit budget or other cuts are the answer depends on financial status at that specific time.”

Conboy says the division must lobby harder for more provincial funding or take more funding from other areas in the budget to make up the difference.

“We can look at what is essential and where we might be able to cut back,” she says. “We can also work on increasing our fundraising efforts … Whatever the solution is, I would be willing to do my best to work with my fellow trustees to find a solution that will have the least amount of impact to the student’s education.”

Cursons says she is open to making cuts in most areas to make up the transport budget shortfall, but would not touch the instructional budget.

“Our students and their success is our first priority,” she says. “The board is constantly monitoring the budget throughout the year, looking for the best use of each dollar without compromising student success.”

When asked, all candidates declared they were generally happy with the state of schools in their ward. Conboy however, felt overcrowding was an issue in some schools. Cursons hoped to see a wider variety of programs offered in local schools. Frank said he always had an ear open to PRSD staff and administrators, particularly when they convey to the board what their special needs are.

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