Ok, so I know I haven't posted a real blog post in a very long time. And I'm not going to promise that I'll do it more regularly, because I seem to go in spurts, but today, I have something I need to get off my chest, and 140 characters just won't do.
There has been much debate in recent weeks about school closures. It is, obviously, a very sensitive subject for many people. Quite frankly, I do not have kids, nor do I live near a school that is marked for closure. That also means I am not affected by the handful of new schools that are being built and opening soon. But I cannot escape getting involved in this debate, because it's been everywhere. Closing schools is a terrible situation, and I really, really hope the school board makes the right decision, but there is so much more to this situation than is really even known by anyone, including me. It does not help that there have basically been propganda campaigns by both sides, and that both of those campaigns are filled with misinformation and trying to make the other side look bad. It's like an election, just on a significantly smaller scale.
There are really 3 sides to this issue. The school board, people near the schools that are closing, and people near the schools that are opening. Each have their own agendas, and none of them are compatible. There is simply no way to make everyone happy, and it will probably make it more difficult for everyone.
The school board is faced with a simple reality. A school that is designed to hold 500 students, but only has 100 enrolled, is simply not sustainable. The amount of funding a school gets is based on the number of students it has, and the math is simple. A school takes a fixed amount of money to run per year. Electricity, heating, maintenance costs, etc, all come out of the school's budget. Many people argue that schools that are filled to capacity still dont' have enough funds for the classroom, how do you expect a school that's spending almost their entire budget on keeping the building running to survive? It's a grim reality, but it's reality nevertheless. It simply is not possible to run a school with such low enrollment.
The families that live near these schools are clearly devastated by the possibility that the schools will be closed. And they should be. I cannot imagine what that would have done to me if the school that I was going to closed while I was still going there. It is truly truly sad that these people have to go through this, and I do not blame them at all for fighting to keep the schools open, I would be doing the exact same thing. I just fear that the numbers are not on their side.
The third, and least talked about group, are people living in the suburbs of the city, and demanding schools be built to accommodate them. This is more an issue of urban sprawl, which an entire different topic in itself, and one I won't get into as much in this post. But the most common argument I have heard from people living in the newest neighbourhoods is that they don't want their kids busing for an hour a day to get to school. I will say, that's a very vaild argument. When I was growing up, I lived no more than a 10 minute walk away from my elementry and jr. high schools, and a 30 minute walk from my high school. It would have sucked to have to take the bus for a couple of hours a day. Of that there is no doubt. And I can see why these people would like schools to be closer to them. The problem is that most of the people who are moving into these neighbourhoods are younger people who are just starting families. In my opinion, if thse people want to start a family and live close to a school, then they should be moving to a neighbourhood that is actually near a school, not moving as far away from the city core as they can, and then demanding the city and province spend tens of millions of dollars to build a school for you. I totally get that they want to live in a newer neighbourhood, and many want to live in their dream house, but sometimes you can't have it both ways. This is a huge reason why schools near the center of the city have low enrollment. People are not willing to move into these neighbourhoods and there are fewer families there. I know that this is not something that the people who love outside the center of the city are trying to do, but the fact that they chose to live so far away from existing schools is in many ways directly responsible for the difficulty that the school board faces now. Again, this is more of a urban sprawl debate, and that is a massive problem in the city, but that isn't what I want to get into here.
Either way, the Edmonton Public School Board faces an impossible decision today. Closing schools is never the first option, and I know that they will look at every option and do whatever they can to keep those schools open, as having schools in the center of the city is very important, but at the end of the day, the numbers simply might not support it. Tomorrow morning, there will be very few happy people, and many angry people will be featured on the news. I just hope that people remember that the end of the day, the school board is doing the best job it can with the situation it has been given, both directly and indirectly, by the public.