Basinview elementary parents facing big decisions with little time
School board rep concerned Basinview will become 'test case' as school navigates post-board system
At a time of change and uncertainty in the education system, parents of children at a severely overcrowded elementary school in Bedford, N.S., say they are under pressure to make some difficult decisions.
"We're in a tough situation with three months left until the end of the school year, to be rushed to make a decision," said Ally Garber, a parent at Basinview Drive Community School and a member of the school advisory council (SAC).
"We are in a situation at Basinview where the current situation can absolutely not be sustained."
According to a report given to Halifax Regional School Board this week, Basinview is already at 117 per cent capacity with 579 students. Parents have been pressing for a new school or an alternative to the crowding.
"They can't have full-school assemblies, and if there's events in the evening they're very crowded," said SAC chair Stephanie Pitcher.
"Basinview just physically doesn't have the room to accommodate students, so it is pretty serious."
The number of students is expected to rise by September 2018, pushing the school to 130 per cent capacity.
Following a town hall meeting in November 2017, the local school board representative asked for a staff report on options to fix the crowding. In the report to the HRSB, staff suggested six options:
- Boundary review to change catchment areas
- Adding two portable classrooms
- Split shifts to have groups of students start class at different times
- Enrolment restriction to stop future enrolments at Basinview
- Grade reconfigurations to redirect some grades to a different school
- Temporary relocation of some of the school population
Garber says the school advisory council is planning a meeting on Monday to discuss the options. At the same time, she said the SAC is uncertain of what will happen after the HRSB dissolves.
"Who's going to be at the wheel to help our community walk through these options, help us determine which is the best one for our community for the short term?" she said.
"Those are some questions we are going to ask next week when we meet with [HRSB]," she said. "We're hoping someone will stay with us during this transition."
Jennifer Raven, the local board member, said although the Halifax board will cease to exist in a month, it wanted any future administration to listen to the concerns of the community.
"The school board has been advocating for capital, and infrastructure, and a new school for multiple years," she said.
"We at least wanted that report as a matter of public record and in the hands of the school and the SAC."
'Test case' school?
Raven says she is concerned that Basinview will become a "test case" for how a school community navigates the administrative system that will be created under the provincial government's new education bill.
"We do not know if the same options are going to be available, if the schools or the SAC or community is going to have any meaningful communication to choose what they want, or it's the new education dictatorship. I don't know," she said.
Education minister Zach Churchill said Thursday SACs would become part of a "more robust advisory network" and would be able to connect more directly to the proposed provincial advisory council and the minister.
"We're enhancing their mandate in the system," he said. "A lot of SAC chairs are really excited about the potential. Depending on which SAC group I spoke with, some didn't feel they were able to pursue their school community objectives under the current model, and we really think that this will help enhance their ability to have a say in what happens in their school community."
Garber, who is also the communications lead for Progressive Conservative party leadership hopeful Tim Houston, said she is in favour of more autonomy for local schools, but her own SAC feels "ill-equipped" to make the decisions it is facing right now.
Raven says she questions whether SACs will be able to make their concerns heard in the new system.
"What I am most afraid of now is, I think Basinview is going to be the test case," she said. "They're very likely, to my knowledge, going to be the first SAC that has to go up against the new system, and see if SACs really do have a voice."