BSD needs new school solution

Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition July 18, 2015

Board Chair Mark Sefton. (Brandon Sun File)
Board Chair Mark Sefton. (Brandon Sun File)

“He didn’t say yes, but he also didn’t say no and that’s significant.”

— Brandon School Division board chair Mark Sefton

If ever there was a time when numbers don’t lie, this would be the case.

Without the construction of a new elementary school in our division, the current safe capacity for students will be met within a few short years.

Some schools have already eclipsed the recommended number of students for a fruitful learning environment, and short of piling them in like cordwood, the need is palpable and real in our community.

This column has explored the Brandon School Division’s overcrowding problems in the past, with some good discussion as a result.

Now it would appear, by board chair Mark Sefton’s comments above, that there may be a glimmer of hope that, given the green light from the province, a plan to meet our needs would be implemented in short order.

In the past, the division’s requests have all but fallen on deaf ears, so perhaps we shouldn’t hold our collective breath. But it should give Brandon a bit of hope that Education Minister James Allum is at least listening. He’s still far away from bellying up to the table with an offer, but it’s a start.

Part of that optimism may come from the future needs study that was circulated at this week’s school board meeting, which proves to Allum the math adds up.

The study stated that some schools, especially those that service Brandon’s south end (where the school division currently owns land) would have an increased need eclipsing 300 new spaces within the next decade. Those 300 spaces are roughly the enrolment levels reflected in a small- to mid-sized elementary school.

The study also shows that projected enrolment of school-aged children in the Brookwood and Bellafield development areas will continue to grow at a rate of roughly 10 per cent per year during that same time frame. That number once again places enrolment at critical levels, with one school needed immediately as well as another in the near future.

Currently, there have been a few stopgap solutions proposed, but as Sefton mentioned in the Sun earlier this week, they are like “putting a Band-Aid on a broken leg.”

Discussion of more portable classrooms — which frankly are a poor long-term solution — or furthering the Brandon School Division’s needs through Assiniboine Community College’s move north are just a few ideas to avoid the costs of building anew in our small and possibly Tory-blue city.

Sadly, the ACC option looks farther and farther away from being a realistic possibility nowadays. If you take into account the renovation costs of an aging structure (which the east end campus is becoming) as well as the impending shuffle of schools, busing of students and repairs to the current stock of buildings, the result moves the needs of both our division and the college further back on the government’s to-do list.

The report is the strongest evidence yet with some staggering statistics, the most powerful being one that reflects the simplest math in the study. With more than 500 school-aged K-8 students already living in the south end, if a new school was announced tomorrow and land was broken immediately, it would be at capacity the day the doors open.

As well, in absence of that announcement, a major stressor is about to rear its head under the current scenario. The division is poised to realign catchment areas to alleviate the stress on crowded schools. This is a nightmare in waiting for parents, administration and educators as they try to explain to students why they must leave their friends and their comfort zone to move elsewhere based on numbers and floating lines.

It is truly unfortunate this process has dragged out as long as it has. This saga has exposed a government that appears to be choosy in overriding the needs of the residents here in our city.

In all reality, why have school boards making decisions that affect our community been vetoed by the government when they have identified what need is the greatest and backed it up with solid fact?

There is hope among the trustees I spoke with this week that maybe this time will be different.

Maybe — just maybe — before all those pesky pre-election bans on announcements kick in, we could sneak in one quick, smiling, shovel-in-ground, grin-and-grip photo-op that politicians are so famous for.

I’m cautiously optimistic that will still happen … but in the meantime, I won’t be caught holding my breath.

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Shaun Cameron is a content contributor. A veteran of print, video and television, Shaun is a professional post-secondary employee by day, a filmmaker by night. Check out more of Shaun's work in the menu bar above.

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Shaun Cameron has worked in media for close to two decades. His work has been featured in print, internet, video, radio and television publications. A proud father of two, Shaun lives in Brandon, Manitoba with his wife Karol.

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