Northern Lights Public Schools (NLPS) sent a clear message to Bonnyville-Cold Lake MLA Scott Cyr: public schools are important.
Whether it is building new schools or giving students proper education, during their Jan. 11 meeting, the board emphasized on the significance of the public education system. As well as the threat that too many choices can have on rural schools.
The conversation was sparked after Cyr expressed advocating for Trinity Christian School Association during their dispute with Alberta Education. The school is now back up and running after Minister of Education David Eggen made the decision to continue funding the home education program.
One thing, Cyr said, that was difficult during the discussion period between Trinity Christian and Alberta Education, was seeing the children at risk of losing their home school programming.
NLPS board chair Mandi Skogen explained that although they definitely agree that everything “we try to do is about the kids,” they advocate for public education over publicly-funded education.
“Being in the rural area, one of the concerns that we have is the outlook of more choice actually equals less choice to children.”
She explained that currently NLPS is offering two or three of the same programs at a level they're pleased with. However, they would prefer to offer a more in-depth program to their students.
Vice-chair Arlene Hrynyk noted that in rural Alberta, the population is continuously declining, and because of this the number of students is also decreasing. School division funding from the province is provided on a per student basis. When there are three different systems available for the limited number of students, those students are distributed throughout those three systems.
“When you are in Bonnyville, and there are three systems trying to offer Math 30-1, and one has 10 kids, the other has 15 kids, and one has nine kids, you are not offering any student a great program,” she said. “Every Alberta family wants their child to have equal opportunity regardless of location.”
The board fully supports choice, but also believes the province of Alberta offers a strong public system that affords exceptional education for every Albertan student.
Hrynyk added, “We believe the province allows for equal opportunity. If you choose something different for your child, it should not be on the backs of tax payers, because in essence what that does is it pulls from the children in the public system.”
Understanding their position, Cyr said he would take the board's concerns back to the table for discussion.
Carbon Tax and NLPS
For schools, transportation costs and the newly implemented Alberta carbon levy go hand-in-hand. Eggen has said he is working on an exemption for schools, but nothing has been set in stone.
Not knowing what lies ahead, the board has started looking at the levy in a different light, taking the opportunity to discuss environmentally friendly options for their schools including exchanging current light fixtures with LED.
“We are looking at ways that we can also be part of the change,” said Skogen.
One way of cutting back on costs while continuing their pursuit to become an environmentally friendly school board, is to share bussing with other boards and schools. Cyr noted he has heard from residents throughout his constituency recommend the cost saving initiative, and extended those concerns to the board.
“I am not sure if the board is open to that or not… There is concern out there within the constituency, saying that we need to be looking at ensuring our children are bussed a reasonable expectation. I do know there are challenges with the different school boards and different schools having different days off, and this is something that obviously will have to be worked out should we decide to move forward,” Cyr explained.
Skogen said the board is always looking at ways of saving school funds, and shared bussing is one way of doing that.
“We do get those complaints as well, and we are interested in seeing where we can go with possibly joint bussing. One of the concerns our board has, is the last time we did that, it didn't necessarily work out so well, and we lost a lot of funding, and it impacted our students negatively.”
The board agreed shared bussing was worth exploring further, and will continue discussions in the future.