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SPERD votes to close two outreach schools


ST. PAUL/ELK POINT - Despite a number of concerns being heard at a public meeting held last week, the St. Paul Education Regional Division (SPERD) board of trustees has voted to move forward with closing two outreach schools within the division, as recommended by administration.

During the May 20 regular board meeting, the closure of the Elk Point Outreach School (EPOS) and Horizons Outreach School was back on the table. Superintendent Glen Brodziak offered a slightly new proposal, recommending a full compliment of staff move from EPOS to F.G. Miller in Elk Point, to help with a smooth transition for students and families.

Staff would be available to former EPOS students full-time for at least one year, and staff would be available at least half-time in year two of the transition. Students from Horizons Outreach School will be transitioned to schools within the Town of St. Paul, and will also be offered needed supports.

Brodziak said he felt the new recommendation "strikes the balance." He noted that while he acknowledged the programs were both valuable, he had to consider the sustainability of the programs and "the bottom line."

When speaking specifically about EPOS, projections for the next school year have 12 students estimated to attend the school. Having a two-year transition period allows 10 of those 12 students to graduate with similar supports in place. Family School Liaison Workers will also be in place to support students from both schools.

"This is never an easy decision," said trustee Justin Anderson, who made the motion to proceed with administration's recommendation to close the outreach schools.

During discussions, it was noted that the Town of Elk Point had expressed the possibility of contributing $5,000 to the school, and the Elk Point Chamber of Commerce could commit $5,000 for one year, or $2,000 a year over three years. The owners of the building where the outreach school in Elk Point is housed also offered free rent for a year at a value of $12,000.

Even with those contributions, the school would run a deficit of $28,000, said Brodziak. The superintendent said he didn't want to put students and parents back into the same position by holding off on making a decision for a year.

Trustees Ruven Rajoo and Lorne Young voiced concern over closing EPOS, and said they would not vote in favour of the motion as it stood. They requested the motion be split into two separate motions, to which Anderson disagreed, keeping the motion as it stood.

Rajoo said he would like more time to consult with stakeholders. "Once it's closed, it's closed," said Rajoo of the motion to close EPOS.

Board Chair Heather Starosielski said she agreed that SPERD needs to look for partnerships, but noted that she had personally reached out to the Town of Elk Point and Elk Point Chamber of Commerce to clarify possible financial contributions after not hearing back from them following the May 14 public meeting. She said she understood the financial challenges that face small municipalities, such as the Town of Elk Point, but she didn't have a firm committment approved by their council, as of Wednesday's board meeting.

When the motion was called, Starosielski explained that while she doesn't normally vote due to being chair of the meetings, she felt it was important to vote in this case. She voted in favour of the motion to proceed with closing the schools. Trustees Christopher Cook and Dwight Wiebe, along with Anderson, also voted in favour. Trustees Young and Rajoo did not vote in favour of the motion. The motion was carried.

The Minister of Education will be notified of the board's decision to close the schools.