Communities brace for school closures

Parents of students at a handful of public schools in central Edmonton worry their voices haven't been heard as the deadline approaches for a decision on whether the schools will remain open.

Parents of students at a handful of public schools in central Edmonton worry their voices haven't been heard as the deadline approaches for a decision on whether the schools will remain open.

On Tuesday, trustees will decide the fate of six schools with nearly 1,000 elementary and junior high students enrolled.  

The closures have been discussed at school meetings and in the communities involved. But that doesn't mean parents have truly been heard, said Wendy Aasen, president of the McCauley Community League.

"My question was, what are the real social and economic costs of closing the school? And, I mean, that was never addressed.

"When processes go like that, it's not encouraging for the public to just jump in," she said. "You go there wanting to save your school, and in the end your spirit gets squashed."

McCauley school, along with Eastwood, Parkdale, Capilano and Fulton Place schools, have been targeted for closure because of low student numbers. The elementary school program at Spruce Avenue school could also be shut down.

Most parents in those neighbourhoods have argued the schools are too important to the community to be allowed to close.

"This is very personal to us," said Aasen. "I mean, this is our neighbourhood, we love it here. We want to stay, we want to stay here and we want to build community here, and we are trying to build community here as a league."

'Working on our exit strategies'

But that effort could be abandoned if McCauley school is closed, said Rob Stack, the vice-president of the McCauley Community League. "We'd be lying if we didn't say we are also working on our exit strategies," he said.

The city has spent nearly $5 million in upgrades to the century-old school in recent years, but a decision to shut down classes doesn't mean that investment would be wasted, said Lorne Parker, managing director of planning for the public school board.

"If McCauley did close, it wouldn't be necessarily removed from the district's inventory," he said. "And if those projections [of higher student populations due to revitalization] came to be in fact true, there would be a building there to respond, if the growth occurred."

The key in the short term, he said, is providing quality education.

"The principals themselves expressed the concerns that they were spreading their programming too thinly," Parker said. "The enrolment in each of the schools was causing a stressor on district resources in terms of being able to offer sustainable programming."