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Alberta Politics

edmonton public school board showing leadership on growth.

I was pleased to read that Edmonton’s Public School Board is making the preservation of existing schools a higher priority than new suburban school construction in its three-year capital plan.

A recent Edmonton Journal editorial criticizing the decision as “anti-sprawl” and “ill-advised” was a slightly misleading considering that six new large public schools have recently been opened suburban neighbourhoods. Catching up on the growing deferred maintenance deficit, which was largely ignored by previous Public School Board Trustees, needs to be addressed. It must have been a tough decision for the Trustees to make, but it was a responsible decision.

Taking positions on urban development may not seem like an immediate responsibility of an elected Trustee, but it is an issue that effects the maintenance of current and development of future education infrastructure that the school boards are tasked to govern. Trustees have a responsibility to be community leaders, and just like City Councillors, Members of the Legislative Assembly, and Members of Parliament, they should not shy away from issues that have a direct effect on their communities. As community leaders they should not be satisfied to remain in administrative silos.

One of the biggest challenges facing Edmonton’s urban core neighbourhoods is how to make them more friendly to families. There are complex challenges facing these neighbourhoods, one of which is the maintenance of school programs. Close a school and you will certainly kill a community. This said, the demand for public schools in every neighbourhood is not the same in 2011 as it was in 1965, when people were having more children and larger families.

Edmonton City Council has yet to deal with the growing issue of urban sprawl, and the pressure it puts on the City’s financial and infrastructure resources. “The Way we Grow” municipal development plan calls for a 70/30 balance between new development and infill in already established neighbourhoods. In reality, the vast majority of new development is still taking place in new suburban neighbourhoods of the city.

Kudos to Edmonton’s Public School Board Trustees for stepping up and showing leadership.

(Image borrowed from Ward F Trustee Michael Janz‘s blog)

8 replies on “edmonton public school board showing leadership on growth.”

Hi!

I was so pleased to read your post. I have been very concerned about the Catholic board’s proposal to move J.H.Picard and close the Elementary school. Would you consider sending your comments as a letter to the Editor to respond to their Education Editorial? What you’ve addresses these issues so well.

I wrote one initially and if I did another I’d borrow heavily from yours!

I agree, schools are often the heart of a community and striking a balance between new and mature neighbourhoods is indeed tricky. That said, there are children from new communities bussing over an hour each way to get to school because there is no school in the neighbourhoods surrounding their homes.

I think you are correct in your connection between “family friendly” neighbourhoods and school survival. I think that reflects and respects the “human scale” that Jane Jacobs so often mentioned.

I do hope this issue avoids an “us against suburbia” flavour. I love ALL of Edmonton.

By the way, those six new schools are already bursting at the seams.

As a Board now opposed to closing schools so as to not remove the underfilled community schools from those inner-city neighborhoods, how can they justify why only inner-city kids deserve neighborhood schools? There are many complicated reasons for why parents choose to live where they do. Why does the School Board get to judge which reasons are valid? Do they not pay taxes to pay for the education? Why do those kids who live where they do have to be transported for long distances to fill up schools that are half empty? All children in the district should be valued equally and deserve the same quality of education. This recent article (and a previous with even more strongly worded quotes to that effect) clearly seem to say to me that this Board values kids from certain postal codes more than others.

Agreed on all points. I think it won’t be much longer before the city is forced to follow Calgary’s lead and enforce a new tax on any developments on the edges of the city. And that’s just for the initial infrastructure costs – I don’t even want to start on the general perils of never ending suburbia. It makes sense that schools, being the centres of communities, form the initial battleground on this topic.

As much as I applaud the efforts of the school board to try and provide a positive vision for combating urban sprawl, voters will ultimately have the say, and Edmonton voters, at least those I know, enjoy the suburbs too much to ever let them go.

@KristenFinlay Not that I can read the Board’s mind, but I’d say it has more to do with making sure that

a) parents from mature, high-density neighbourhoods aren’t facing a future of consistently subsidizing newer schools in increasingly far-flung suburban locations – and unless tax structures change to reflect the disproportionate pressure placed on public infrastructure from suburban lifestyle choices, that’s exactly what’s happening; and

b) making sure those kids from “certain postal codes,” as you say, aren’t being left behind.

I don’t envy the Board this one – unless we find a magic pot of money to keep shiny schools open throughout the entire city, there will parents who don’t get the same quality of service from the education system for their dollars as parents in other postal codes, and there will be kids who have to commute to school. That’s a decision between a rock and a hard place if I’ve ever seen one.

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