Edmonton

District offers compromise on Summerside school boundary dispute

Edmonton Catholic Schools has decided to compromise on a boundary change that has upset parents with children at Father Michael Mireau School in the southeast neighbourhood of Summerside.

Edmonton Catholic to 'grandfather' existing students at Father Michael Mireau School

Father Michael Mireau School in Summerside was opened in 2017 and is already overcapacity. (Michelle Bellefontaine/CBC)

Edmonton Catholic Schools has decided to compromise on a boundary change that has upset parents with children attending Father Michael Mireau School in the southeast neighbourhood of Summerside.

With 934 students, the kindergarten to Grade 9 school is already overcapacity three years after it opened. 

To take the pressure off Father Michael Mireau Elementary/Junior High School, the district changed the catchment area. About 118 students who live in the southern part of Summerside — from Savaryn Drive SW and 22 Avenue SW to 25th Avenue SW — would go to Divine Mercy School. It is scheduled to open in the Orchards at Ellerslie neighbourhood in September 2020. 

After parents were given the news at parent-teacher conferences two weeks ago, the district received angry emails and calls from parents. They're concerned about how the move would split the neighbourhood, and in some cases split families, by forcing children to go to a different school than their siblings.

John Fiacco, assistant superintendent of education planning, delivered the new plan to about 100 parents at a meeting Thursday night. 

'The best plan for the families'

Kindergarten to Grade 6 students who live in what the district is calling "the belt" and who currently attend Father Michael Mireau School can still keep going there if they choose. Their younger siblings can register there too. 

The district will provide bussing until June 2023 but students can keep attending the school until they complete Grade 9.

"The plan that we're putting forward ... we don't feel as a planning team is the best plan moving forward," Fiacco told parents. "But it is the best plan for the families."

The grandfathering scenario means Divine Mercy School will have 160 students when it opens. The school, built for 600, would have opened at 50 per cent capacity under the original plan. 

Only 30 per cent of the lots in the Orchards at Ellerslie have homes on them so the school is expected to fill up over time.

Jill Lima has two children at Father Michael Mireau School. She said the grandfathering plan left her with mixed emotions. 

"We are grandfathered now so we are happy with that," she said. "I don't know if a year and a half from now if we're going to have to be gathering in the gym again because Divine Mercy has no children. 

"So that feeling of continuous uncertainty doesn't sit well with me."

Population growth questioned

Some parents who attended Thursday's meeting questioned the numbers used by the school district to justify the boundary change, especially the figure suggesting 638 or 11 per cent of the lots in Summerside can still be developed, which would add another 1,786 residents to the neighbourhood. 

The projected population growth for Summerside and the Orchards at Ellerslie neighbourhoods based on undeveloped lots is 9,592 new residents. 

Matt Peruski, who has three children attending Father Michael Mireau School, believes the remaining Summerside lots are designated for commercial, not residential use. He thinks the board is trying to push Summerside families into Divine Mercy School to justify the money it spent building it. 

"Housing starts have declined and that school is not going to fill as quickly as expected," he said. "So I think there may be an optics problem looming in the background."

Fiacco rejected the idea that the boundaries were redrawn to fill the new school. The data the district is using for its growth projections is supplied by the city, he said.