Fort Fraser/Fraser Lake — School District 91’s board of trustees met with Fraser Lake and Fort Fraser residents April 29 to discuss a possible amalgamation of three schools.
The board is contemplating combining Fort Fraser, Mouse Mountain and Fraser Lake Elementary Secondary due to a steady decline of enrolment that the board has been monitoring since 2010.
Chair of the board, Steve Davis, started the Fort Fraser meeting by mentioning the closures that happened last year in Burns Lake and Vanderhoof.
“I know all our trustees would like to keep all schools open, in fact open nice new schools, but at this time it’s not feasible,” he said. “While this discussion is necessary but not easy, it is necessary to make informed and thoughtful decisions so students, staff and parents have the best educational experiences.”
He assured the packed-room of concerned parents, teachers and community members that no decision has yet been made and that the board’s eyes and ears are open.
“No decision will be made until the consultation period is over.”
The April 20 board meeting marked the start of the 60-day process.
Acting superintendent Charlene Seguin, spoke at the meeting.
“If the board asked me tonight, I would recommend closing down Fort Fraser and I recognize some people will have a difference in opinion…but the key thing here is asset management. Every dollar saved on energy, carbon tax, maintenance and capital expenditures over time matters. The board’s long-term goal must remain to achieve the best educational outcome for all students now and into the future,” she said.
A slide show walked onlookers through the decline of students at each school.
Fort Fraser is currently operating at 30 per cent capacity, Mouse Mountain at 59 per cent and FLESS at 50 per cent.
“It means we are using heating, cleaning, maintenance and roofing three times as much as we need for the current population here [in Fort Fraser],” Seguin said. “If we did a reconfiguration [combining all three schools] we would still have a surplus of 41 per cent..there is actually enough capacity to send all kids from MM and FF to FLESS.”
The School Act places responsibility of school openings, closures and refiguring on the board of education. Based on current enrolment and future projections, the school district foreshadows a continued decline in enrolment. However, they do predict a slight upturn for FLESS and FF schools over the next five years (based on birth rates and northern health data). The board predicts 41 new students overall in the area by 2020.
“So instead, we’ll have a loss of 25 per cent not 42 per cent,” Seguin said, pointing out that public schools are funded primarily by the number of students enrolled in the school and that a decline in enrolment directly impacts the budget for the district. “The student population in the Fort Fraser/ Fraser Lake area has decreased by 32 per cent over the past 16 years. That’s why were here tonight.”
Fort Fraser School Parent Advisory Council (PAC) president, Alana Forsberg, made a compelling presentation to the board about the council’s thoughts on keeping Fort Fraser School open.
“Our school is not just a school it’s the heart of our community. You can see the people here, we have such community support in this little town its mind blowing,” Forsberg said.
She commented on the schools ability to raise large amounts of money through fundraising.
“As a community we got $60,000 playground equipment, which these people helped build,” she said pointing to the audience. “And a $50,000 skating rink this community put out there that we raised the funds for.”
Transportation was also a concern for the council.
“Having four-and-five year olds on a bus for an hour is a long time,” Forsberg said.
She also spoke to the schools large aboriginal presence being close to Nautley First Nation, strong breakfast program and council’s concerns about what the boards yearly maintenance review actually said about the school.“Our school is structurally sound, just look around. I’m curious why our school is on the chopping block when it’s the only one in town. Vanderhoof, Fort St. James and Burns Lake have more than one school, we only have one in this community. Why wasn’t Mapes closed, they have just as many students as we do,” she said.
Forsberg also asked the council where Fort Fraser kids were expected to go if the school did close and what would happen to the playground equipment.
Speaking on behalf of the trustees, Seguin replied, “Mapes was considered last year with the schools in the Vanderhoof area. Sinkutview is full, Evelyn Dickson is pretty much full and McLeod does have the capacity but we house our learning distance program (E-BUS) there – the biggest school in the district
that serves 1,300 full-time equivalent kids and 2,000 part-time kids. E-Bus has added to our revenues coming into the district. Mapes is not off our radar but our schools in Vanderhoof are operating at 80 per cent capacity.”
Answering the question on where kids will go if Fort Fraser School closes, Seguin said it would be up to the parent but that her recommendation would be to send them to Fraser Lake.
“Fraser Lake grades 4-12 has 300 kids. That means our high school population is very very low. We would like people to support Fraser Lake because Vanderhoof can stand on it’s own a little better,” Seguin said.
Tim Bancroft, manager of facilities, spoke to the building’s useful-life timeframe. “Typically a building lasts 40-50 years so this building is starting to time out. There’s nothing wrong with it just it’s reaching the end of its life where we would have to start replacing things like the heating system, exhaust system and cabinets,” Bancroft said.
A member of the community, Bob Green, spoke at the meeting.
“What I’m concerned with is the cost of administration per student ..maybe we should be concentrating more on education and our children and less on lining pockets…if the ministry is short-changing us tell us, tell us the real reason your closing this school,” he said.
Davis said administration costs are actually decreasing.
“Less children in our schools is the problem. Unfortunately the reality is we get less money with less children,” Davis said.
Fort Fraser commissioner Colleen Delong politely asked the board why can’t they combine schools in Fort Fraser and if the school does close, what would happen to the park and rink.
“It would be nice if we could use the grounds because our new rink is going into its second stage with boards and hoops,” Delong said.
Davis reiterated it would be a conversation that the board would have to have with the PAC and the community at a later time. “The recreation and local commission have been working with the regional district, it’s a bad time to think the school is closing. I just hope you listen to us.. a closure could mean no Fort Fraser down the road,” Delong said.