New Brunswick

Browns Flat digs in to try and save elementary school

People in Browns Flat are making a case to keep their school open. The 27-year-old school is one of four in Anglophone South School District that is being considered for closure. It has 43 students in kindergarten through Grade 5.

Anglophone South School District considers closing 4 schools

People in Browns Flat are making a case to keep their school open.

The 27-year-old school is one of four in the Anglophone South School District that is being considered for closure. It has 43 students in kindergarten through Grade 5.

Rhonda Makepeace, Gloria Donald and Natasha Bennett are involved with the Parent School Support Committee at Browns Flat Elementary. They are fighting to keep the K-5 school open. (Neville Crabbe / CBC)
Rhonda Makepeace, the home and school president, says it was a shock to hear the community school may be shuttered.

"We have been reassured that the school is not on the radar for any type of study like this," said Makepeace.

"Our school is a relatively new building. Although our numbers are low, we didn't think we were on the radar to be part of something like this."

Browns Flat Elementary is currently undergoing a sustainability study by the district, along with nearby Norton Elementary School.

Under a protocol established by the Department of Education, the review will evaluate the school using eight criteria, including enrolment, the cost to operate and maintain the school and the impact of closure on the local community.

Lorne Middle School and Pennfield Elementary have already gone through the evaluation process in Anglophone South. Schools in other districts throughout the province are carrying out similar evaluations.

Once the evaluations are completed, each district education council will make a recommendation to the education minister on which, if any, of its schools to close.

Education Minister Serge Rousselle makes the final decision on whether a school will close.

Impact on rural communities

Parents, such as Makepeace and Gloria Donald, a member of the Browns Flat parent school support committee, say they worry that busing students further from home will harm their school experience and their quality of education.

"It's all about preserving our heritage," said Donald, who has three children attending the school.

"This is our community.

This is the heart of our community, this is our identity.- Gloria Donald, member of Browns Flat parent school support committee

"This is the heart of our community, this is our identity."

Members of the local service district committee worry that closing the only school in the LSD will impact property values and stymie future economic development.

"Who's going to come in to a community and build a home, if they have a family, with no school?" said LSD representative Sandra Speight.

Speight recognizes the provincial government needs to reduce spending, but isn't convinced closing Browns Flat Elementary is the solution.

"There are other ways to cut costs than at the expense of our children," she said. "They have to transport them further down the line. They haven't proved to us this will save money."

Almost all the students currently at Browns Flat Elementary are bused, but they would have to travel further if the school was closed.

District education council to decide

Rob Fowler, the chairman of the Anglophone South District Education Council, says every dollar spent on keeping small schools open is costing the system elsewhere.

"We would rather put money into programs and staffing rather than electricity and building costs," said Fowler.

Local opinions do matter, said Fowler.

"We really need to hear what the impact is on the community," he said.

District officials are scheduled to make a presentation at the Browns Flat school on March 12. A public meeting will be held in early April and the council is to make a decision on April 29.

"It looks like we're being fast-tracked through this whole process," said Makepeace.

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