“I’m sorry; Johnny cannot come out to play with you because your mom took away his school.”
Although not exactly the verbiage used, it is not far off what we are hearing and feeling in the streets of Morinville post town hall meeting with Education Minister Thomas Lukaszuk Mar. 15. Despite the minister’s cautioning us all against the us and them mentality, we adults have waded right into the middle of it by finger pointing, name calling, Facebook friend deleting and using our children as pawns in a chess game of infrastructure debate, discussion and speculation.
It is right and within rights to be upset at a lack of non-Catholic education. It is right and within rights to be upset at the prospect of your child’s school being taken away and given to children whose parents didn’t want them to go to that school when it was under Catholic control. What is not right is dumping that adult discussion, debate and speculation onto the children of this community.
This infrastructure discussion has never been about Catholic vs. protestant or atheist, faith-based education vs. non faith based education. Let me be clear. The debate over whether or not there should be a public option was concluded with the opening of Morinville Public Elementary School this past fall, and even the harshest critics of that idea have now seen there was room for both systems in Morinville. The present problem has been where to put all the community’s students.
This present community chaos has been about the convenience of geography and the satisfaction of existing education. Many parents have said they would send their children to Vanier no matter what flavour of education it offers because it was close to the child’s home. Others have said they would send their children to a GSACRD school no matter what it becomes because the teachers and programing were great. That set of reasoning applies equally in all directions because we simply are not hearing from anyone that the teachers and educators in Morinville are deficient in any way.
For the past week, people have tossed around numbers with little-to-no basis in fact. Public numbers have been cast as 40-50 kids. There are 86 in Morinville alone – 157 if you include total Morinville students in Sturgeon School Division schools.
But here’s the thing few are seeing. If you subtract even 86 children from GSACRD’s enrolment and they were still 46 students ahead at the start of the 2011-21012 school year, we are seeing student enrolment growth in this community on par with the population growth.
Morinville has grown more than 25 per cent in the past five years, but we were so concerned with building the road to St. Albert and Edmonton via an overpass that we all passed over our children’s road to the future. Hindsight is 20/20, but we dropped the ball as a community in not lobbying for a new school when population numbers started trending upwards. Maybe the all-knowing, all-powerful Capital Region Board has not waved its magic wand and deemed Morinville a growth area, but Morinville is growing and we should have been worrying about where our kids would be educated rather than where they were going to skate or swim.
In speaking with Greater St. Albert Catholic Regional Division this week, we see the following enrolment numbers in their schools: G. P. Vanier (384), Notre Dame Catholic Elementary (357), G. H. Primeau (375), and MCHS (588).
According to Superintendent Keohane, when special needs students (who require more education space) are factored in Vanier is 84 per cent utilized and Notre Dame is 108 per cent utilized. Morinville’s middle and high school have slightly lighter utilization at 65 per cent and 82 per cent respectively. Mr. Keohane said Primeau could accommodate 150 more students than it presently has, but that is clearly insufficient for this community’s current and future growth.
MCHS was the last school built in Morinville and that was almost 20 years ago. We’ve grown considerably in this community over the last two decades. Vanier, our oldest elementary school, was built in 1957 and added to over the years. Notre Dame was built in 1976 and rapidly added to over the next four years. Primeau was built in 1979 and added to over the next 11 years.
So no matter how we slice and dice infrastructure in this community, unless Lukaszuk has a magic wand, we need to break out hammer and wood and do some more building in Morinville. Hopefully that work will not include too much rebuilding of a community torn apart over the issue that lies before us.