Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of March 10, 2003
Edmonton considers closing 3 schools
Province's 'utilization rate' cuts into district's funding
By RENATO GANDIA
WCR Staff Writer
Edmonton's Catholic school board will hold a public consultation on the possibility of closing its three elementary schools.
With a vote of 6-1, the board March 3 recommended a consultation process for the closure of Our Lady of Peace in the west end, St. Jerome in the northeast and St. Patrick in the central part of the city.
On April 28, the board will decide whether to close the schools.
"This is one of the most difficult decisions we face as a board," said Charlie Koester, board chair.
"Our approval to start the consultation process does not necessarily mean a school will close because in the past, the outcome of such consultation has resulted in a school remaining open," Koester told the WCR. "It is important for the public to realize the consultation process is authentic."
Part of the recommendation is to consider relocation of: the K-6 program of Our Lady of Peace to St. Vincent and Annunciation schools; the elementary program of St. Jerome to St. Nicholas; the regular elementary program and special education programs of St. Patrick to St. Alphonsus and St. Catherine schools.
Superintendent Dale Ripley said, "The yearly review of smaller schools is part of the district policies and ultimately ensures a responsible deployment of facility resources throughout the district."
"We know, however, it is hard for any school community to embrace the thought of their school closing, that is why our process is so thorough."
A falling utilization rate of school facilities was the major factor for this decision.
The utilization rate is the measure by which the province judges how efficiently a school board is using space in its schools.
In total, the district has 44,554 student spaces, 30,954 of which are now filled leaving them with 13,600 empty student spaces.
The district's total enrolment did not fall but due to changes in the province's way of measuring school utilization, Edmonton Catholic Schools' rating for 2002-03 dropped from 76 per cent to 69 per cent. As a result the district was penalized with $500,000 reduction to its plant operations and maintenance grant.
Alberta Infrastructure has said districts with utilization rates below 85 per cent will receive no capital funding either for new schools or major modernizations.
The Catholic district wants to up its utilization rating because each per cent increase equals approximately $240,000 in additional dollars to their plant operations and maintenance grant.
The utilization rate of the district will increase to 71.4 per cent from 69 per cent if they decide to close the three schools.
On its annual small schools review, the district listed schools with enrolment lower than 226 students. The three schools were among those that did not cut the number. Our Lady of Peace has 160, St. Jerome, 120 and St. Patrick with 155 students.
Alberta Infrastructure rated the capacity of each school. Our Lady of Peace was put at 313 net student spaces, St. Jerome at 197 and St. Patrick at 551.
Projected growth and neighbourhood development plans were also taken into account in determining the overall impact on future enrolment of the three schools.
At the meeting, Ripley noted that many established neighbourhoods have declining numbers of school-aged children while there is an increase in new areas of the city, where the district needs new schools.
While consultation for closure of the three elementary schools is underway the district is hoping to open four new schools in September and another one next year.
In 2001, St. Andrew's School, in the Westmount area, was closed after a wide consultation. The board also agreed to regularly review whether to close schools with low enrolment.
St. Jerome and St. Patrick were considered eligible for such review at that time. Our Lady of Peace was not. In fact, it was recommended for modernization.