P.E.I.'s ongoing school review process became the central topic of debate in the P.E.I. Legislature Tuesday, as Opposition MLAs questioned the accuracy of data used to project future enrolments and pointed to gaps in information put forward to the public.
Enrolment projections put forward by P.E.I.'s Public Schools Branch as part of the review process show the overall student population is expected to drop by two per cent over the next six years.
Some individual schools like Alberton Elementary and M.E. Callaghan in the western part of the province are projected to see drops of 60 per cent.
'Meagre' growth, or not?
After asking minister of workforce and advanced learning Richard Brown to confirm government hoping to grow P.E.I.'s a population to 150,000 by the end of 2017, PC MLA Sidney MacEwen turned his questions to Education Minister Doug Currie.
"Why does your school change process assume such meagre population growth over the next five years?" " MacEwen asked. "We have the minister of workforce and advanced learning here saying that: 'No, hold on, the population is booming?'"
"My wish ... is that we continue to see robust growth in all communities across the province," responded Currie.
"But we also have to recognize ... that we have some very serious situations in respect to overcapacity [of schools] and we've got some very real situations as far as under-utilization.
The objective, said Currie, is to find better balance and best use of the resources.
Projections could change
Earlier in the day, the Public Schools Branch said an independent consultant was re-examining the population projections the review has been using.
New figures could be released in January, although project manager Bob Andrews said the consultant's work doesn't show any significant changes in projections.
New enrolment projections are being created based on enrolment figures from September 2016, he said. The first round round of projections was created using 2015 baseline data.
What about new construction?
Another Opposition concern was how the topic of economic development has been addressed through the review process, and whether things like new residential construction have been factored into growth projections.
In the initial round of school review documents, under the heading of residential and commercial development, many schools were listed as having "no known developments to report."
Opposition MLA Darlene Compton said those assessments are wrong.
"Minister, why did you not even bother to conduct a meaningful assessment of the current state of economic development across our province before this report was done?"
The Public Schools Branch has said it has been collecting more information on development from municipal governments, and any changes in projections, if required, will be reflected in the information made available in January.
"The information that's being brought to light is wrong," said PC MLA Matthew MacKay.
"The public just feels the process is too rushed. They want the process to slow down a bit."
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