Today our board debated and voted for an amendment to our capital plan in light of our growing enrolment and urgent infrastructure needs. Our board voted to re-order our list of capital funding requests to the province in light of spring funding announcements, meaning that our number one request is for an urgently needed high school in the south east of the city, as well as an amendment to include a specific concept for a school consolidation in Brittania-Youngstown, Mayfield and Canora neighbourhoods.
As the trustee for these neighbourhoods, I spoke about my reasons for concern about this specific concept and school consolidations in these neighbourhoods, detailing the reason I voted against this plan and I would like to include my comments in this blog below:
I’d like to recognize how difficult engagement is, and just how hard our team has been working on engaging community members, and would like to recognize that they’ve even presented on their model at a Canadian conference recently.
I know that our board faces significant challenges in infrastructure and significant deferred maintenance and that we are committed to providing equity in infrastructure to students in all neighborhoods. I represent many mature neighbourhoods and investment in these neighborhoods is so very important.
I also worry that social vulnerability factors may impede the ability for families to know about or attend engagement sessions or fill out surveys. For example, many families in some of these neighborhoods face food insecurity, the stress of this basic concern may outweigh ability to participate in traditional engagement.
Our district calculates a high social vulnerability needs based on many factors and all of the schools in this cluster are in the top 50/198. Brightview School sits at number 6 on this list, Youngstown & Britannia are tied at number 22, and Mayfield sits at number 48. I worry that the imbalances even within this list, may impact the ability for community members to engage with us in traditional ways. For example, I worry that in light of these numbers, residents in Mayfield may have more capacity to represent their needs versus residents in Canora.
This vote, the ammendement to the capital plan to include a concept, is a major decision. It sets out our request to the province for funding, and places within that request a choice on which schools within a cluster are funded for replacement and which will not be replaced. It is the major decision point our board makes within a school consolidation and school closure process.
I believe that both a new build and a potential future closure are decisions that last for decades and that our board should make these decisions with an eye to the impact on students, families and communities for decades. I think it would be pertinent for our board to have information on neighborhood demographics, future development trends such as plans for multi-family housing, as well as other community supports for students in the neighbourhood, as would be present in a Community Impact Statement from the City of Edmonton, which I feel is needed at this point in our decision-making.
I am in support of the nature of smaller schools present within this concept, especially compared to Concept B, which consisted of one large school, but I believe I need more information to make this decision and I worry that though our planning department has done so much hard work on engagement, that without additional data, this decision could be biased against vulnerable neighborhoods and therefore cannot support this amendment.