With heavy hearts BTPS carried a motion yesterday to close Clandonald School, effective June 30.
Buffalo Trail Public Schools Regional Division No. 28 (BTPS) began their investigation in January and held virtual a meeting with the community in February to gather more information.
“I live in the area so it was a super difficult decision–right up to when we were deciding–because I know what it means to lose a rural school. It was a really heart wrenching decision for our board because we have worked so hard to promote our rural schools,” said Board Chair, Lanie Parr.
“There are some really personal connections to this school. One of our trustees – his mother went to school and graduated there, and another trustee helped the community with a housing project.
Even from the board, everybody feels a really deep connection to this community.
“It did boil down to numbers, and it was the most heartbreaking thing for the community because they have worked so hard and were doing so many incredible initiatives to help support the school, but just weren’t able to get that growth like we were hoping.”
Clandonald School currently has 18 students in Grades 1 – 6. Three more students were projected for next year, but the board did not see long term growth and said they’ve been steadily declining for last four years.
In 2014, they closed the junior high but wanted to give the community time to grow. The potential closure was up for review last year as well, but the board chose not to close because they wanted to see what the funding model would be.
With the new Alberta Education funding model released this year, they received a loss of a $79,634 Small Schools by Necessity grant. They now only receive $25,000 to support schools with less than 35 students.
Aside from seeing a shortfall of $86,645, in their budget to keep the school operational, a deficit for staffing and resources, facilities, and transportation costs, the BTPS board also looked at maintenance and renovation costs for an older building as some parts of the structure are from 1956.
Upgrades required in the next five years include $270,000 of infrastructure and possible $3,850,000 for modernization of the west wing and gym. Projects would include furnaces, flooring, washrooms, roofing, and the potential external envelope of the west end.
With it being a difficult year with the pandemic, the board felt the costs were just too great to make it feasible.
Parr said that Clandonald is not the only school in the division seeing decreased enrollment, that it is being seen across rural Alberta, and some divisions have closed a lot larger schools with the funding being such a challenge.
In addition to the public meeting, two presentations were given at the board meeting and Parr said meeting online was not how they wanted to meet at all in order for everyone involved to be able to support their neighbours and staff.
“I thought the presentations were incredible. After they found out there was a motion to investigate, they began to really reach out to see where they could get some innovative ideas, such as agriculture programs or French immersion.”
One of the board members pointed out that there have been five schools close near Provost and all those communities are still viable. This along with the resident’s spirit to continue on despite adversity gave the board hope that Clandonald would survive despite not having a school.
In upcoming years, students will have the choice to be bussed to either Dewberry or Vermilion. Children in older grades already bus elsewhere.
“We’ll make sure the kids are supported wherever they choose to go. It’s a big thing for them and their community,” said Parr.
“I am really hoping that the students enjoy the rest of this year – they do absolutely amazing things at that school. I hope we can support them and have talked about bringing in mental health supports for the transition.”
Parr said a presentation by Leith Matthews included a plan for the community to continue to pursue re-envisioning Clandonald regardless of the board’s decision.
Clandonald already has an active Senior’s Centre, Ag Society, Fire Department, and several businesses.
The vision for the community involved revitalizing and cleaning up the hamlet, community gardens and a market to sell their goods, potential for agriculture or junior forestry warden programs, as well as a future museum and gym or exercise room.
“Clandonald can really come together as a community, and what’s unbelievably amazing about it, is how they have supported one another and the school,” said Parr.