Last night, I attended the Edmonton Public School Board meeting where Trustees voted to close five Edmonton schools (Parkdale, McCauley, Eastwood, Capilano, and Fulton Place schools will close at the end of June 2010).
The meeting was preceded with a demonstration where over 200 parents and students rallied against the closures and welcomed community leaders, including MLAs Hugh MacDonald and Brian Mason, to speak to the crowd. After the demonstration, the crowd poured into the meeting hall (and thanks to the Edmonton Journal the meeting was live-streamed online so that people across the City could watch).
As the meeting began, it was clear that it would be a very tense evening. At one point during the meeting, as Trustee Sue Huff called out fellow Trustee Ken Shipka for not speaking to the motion to close one of the schools (Mr. Shipka would only say that he was voting for the closure), Board Chair Don Fleming snapped at Huff “RELAX!” It was an out of line comment from Trustee Fleming and only increased the thick intensity in the room.
I shared some thoughts on the inner city school closures a couple of weeks ago and I continue to believe that many of the challenges facing inner city schools have been caused by the lack of smart urban planning in Edmonton. As Edmonton continues to sprawl and spawn new neighborhoods in each direction, it has become increasingly difficult for the school board to plan the future of its schools. This is an issue of urban planning and coordination between City Councillors and School Board Trustees that needs to be addressed. Both Councillors and Trustees are doing Edmontonians a disservice when they do not work together.
I also feel that the Public School Trustees could be more creative with how they use the space available in these undercapacity schools. Could renting out unused space to non-profit, community, or public health groups help cover the costs of keeping these schools operating at such low capacities? Maybe this would not save every school from closure, but it might allow consolidation of two into one. I got the district feeling at last night’s meeting that most Trustees may had not considered these kind of ideas. It is my observation that there are only three Trustees who have been willing to look out of the box since the last election (Trustees Huff, Dave Colburn, and Catherine Ripley have caught my attention).
Last night the meeting room was packed with over 200 engaged and irritated citizens. Hopefully they will continue to stay engaged and challenge incumbent Trustees who continue to think inside the box when it comes to options for under-capacity schools. A growing number of these citizens have helped form groups like ARTES and understand that the election is only six months away.