New school boundaries in plan

Potential new school in Silver Hills is years away says district spokesperson Irena Pochop.

The Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows school district is looking at redrawing school boundaries and adding choice programs such as French immersion in order to even out the enrolment in its schools.

That’s part of the homework required by the education ministry before it approves any money for a new school. The community – including Mayor Nicole Read – has been calling for new schools in the growing Albion and Silver Valley areas.

Once the ministry agrees to fund a new school – and it has already refused in the past – it would still be years away.

“If we get ministry approval today, that doesn’t mean there’s a school there next year,” said district spokesperson Irena Pochop. The planning process for a new school still takes 37-49 months.

Elementary school enrolment has been declining in the district. That is now leveling off, but the 20 schools still have an excess capacity of 494 student spaces, and that excess capacity will exist until at least 2020.

The ministry points to this capacity when refusing funding for schools in Albion and Silver Valley.

“The issue is we have people travelling farther distances to get to schools,” noted board chairman Mike Murray.

These and other issues will be explained at an open house at Thomas Haney secondary on this Wednesday at 7 p.m.  Those attending are asked to register by e-mail at register@sd42.ca.

Items on the agenda at that meeting include:

• A catchment review for Samuel Robertson Technical and Garibaldi secondary

• A review of elementary school catchments to address overpopulation in some Pitt Meadows schools

• French immersion program catchment review

• Early French immersion at Maple Ridge elementary

•    A proposal for other programs of choice in the areas of trades, fine arts, and international baccalaureate

Murray said the facilities review will help the board “rationalize our use of facilities.”

“Some (schools) are very full, and there are others that are less so.”

SRT is bursting at the seams – there are 12 portable classrooms at the site. However, Garibaldi is under-utilized. So SRT’s boundaries will shrink, and Garibaldi’s will expand. The public will be presented with options.

Similarly, Pitt Meadows has some elementary schools that are full – PME is about 100 students over capacity, while Edith McDermott is under-utilized. New boundaries for Pitt Meadows elementary schools will also be presented.

The district has a grandfathering policy that allows siblings to attend the same schools, even though boundaries may change before younger brothers and sisters enroll. The changes would come into effect in September 2016.

“We’re wanting to manage this resource very carefully, and with as little disruption as possible for our residents,” said Murray.

There will also be presentations about choice programs, and they will be offered at schools like Garibaldi, where the district needs to attract more students.

“We’re also talking about those areas of education we need to explore,” noted Murray. “Everyone from what additional trades training they would like to see, and we’re interested in how people feel about the International Baccalaureate Program and French Immersion and how it is we address those needs.”

Murray said this work will help the district prepare its submission of a five-year capital plan to the Education Ministry this fall.

The district’s six secondary schools will see a slight enrolment increase, but there is a surplus capacity that is projected to remain for  long time.

Although the board’s advertising says, “Help the board of education avoid school closures,” that is a worst-case scenario in facilities planning, said Pochop, and no closures are being contemplated.

The board conducted an online survey that garnered 861 responses.

Asked what choice programs the district should consider offering in the future, the favourite at 48 per cent was a fine arts academy, secondary environmental education at 34 per cent and IB middle years 30 per cent.

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