Too few students may force closure of Cape Breton schools

The Cape Breton Victoria Regional School Board is facing tough decisions about closing schools.

Too few students and too much real estate to maintain the number of schools school board has

The Cape Breton–Victoria Regional School Board is facing tough decisions about closing schools.

The board begins a series of public meetings this week to look at the future of its 52 schools right across the district.

Paul Oldford, the director of operational services with the board, said many schools are nearly half empty — and the money needed to maintain those buildings could be better used in the classroom.

"What's happening to the board, which is really not sustainable, is we have too much real estate. We have not enough students to fill that real estate, which is putting us in a situation that is simply not sustainable into the future. Something has to give," he said.

The board has come up with 32 possible scenarios, some of which involve the closure of certain schools and the consolidation of others.

Those scenarios were outlined in a 140 page report called "Looking Inward."

The report examined enrolment, infrastructure and how the board could prepare for the future. Oldford said the report highlighted some big problems.

"What we're doing is we're taking money that should be going to students and student services — programs for kids and using it to sustain real estate. That's why this is really not sustainable into the future. So we're faced with very difficult decisions," he said.

Those decisions may involve rethinking exactly how schools in the Cape Breton–Victoria Regional School Board are setup.

"The other piece of this, of course, is that it brings into play a discussion around grade-level configuration which is also part of this. One of the things we are examining is, do we change from what is in vogue right now? Which is the elementary schools being from Grade Primary to 6, junior high being from Grade 7 to 9, and senior high being from [Grade] 10 to 12," said Oldford.

Public meetings start Wednesday

The board is considering turning some schools into Primary to Grade 12 buildings. It's also inviting people to come forward with their own suggestions.

There are seven public meetings this month, beginning Wednesday night in New Waterford.

"It's really important that people get out and provide the input that we need, because we really don't want anybody to not be heard and not have the opportunity to get their views out there," said Oldford.

Kim Devseaux, a parent in New Waterford, worries this discussion is much more about saving money than quality education.

"If the criteria are putting the proper methods and space together so that the learning is enriched, then that's a great thing. But if it's solely about, 'Look, we can't heat this space so we're going to put all these particular students together in one other space,' that will concern me," she said.

The board hopes to have firm plans in place for a number of school closures or consolidations by early 2014.


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