Parents plan fight for schools

The school board has decided to close the Wilcox, Sask., school but residents say the fight to keep it open isn’t over.

The community learned last week that the school, with an enrolment of 50 students in Kindergarten through Grade 8, would close this summer.

Half of the 16 closures announced last week by various Saskatchewan school divisions will occur in the rural area around Regina. This year the Saskatchewan government ended a two year moratorium on school closures that it had put in while amalgamating school divisions.

Aside from Wilcox, the Prairie Valley School Division board voted May 7 to close schools in Earl Grey, Francis, Glenavon, Gray, Lang, Odessa and Kronau. It will discontinue Grades 9 to 12 at Sedley and Kennedy-Langbank schools. Only McLean School survived the chopping block.

Board chair Rod Luhning said in a news release that the members recognized some communities wouldn’t be happy with the decisions.

“We have a great deal of respect for the commitment these communities, and all of our communities, have shown to their schools and to their children’s education,” he said. “We anticipate they will carry that commitment and support forward to their new schools.”

But Wilcox parents and taxpayers are angry that their school operated on its own until last year when the provincial government amalgamated school districts and forced schools like theirs to join.

Now, they say, the school division has taken their tax money and closed their school. The students will be bused to Milestone, about 20 kilometres away.

Mark Weisshaar farms near Wilcox and is a member of the school community council.

He should be concentrating on seeding but said school issues have been consuming his thoughts and time.

“We have 100 percent support from our parents to fight this,” he said May 11.

Members of the council are each exploring different options, including legal action and establishing either a charter or independent school.

Weisshaar said the division board didn’t listen to residents and didn’t use the correct numbers, including enrolment, when making its decision.

All the divisions that closed schools cited declining enrolments that are expected to continue. But Weisshaar said Wilcox enrolment has been stable for 40 years.

Wilcox is home to a young population that mostly works at Athol Murray College of Notre Dame, the well-known private boarding school for high school students.

“Our town is full of educators,” Weisshaar said.

Right now, students from the Wilcox school can attend Notre Dame for high school, a perk Weisshaar said benefits everyone. Once students go to elementary school in Milestone, they would only be able to choose Notre Dame if they paid a day rate tuition.

He said the community has to take immediate action if it wants to save its school.

Other closures announced last week included Admiral, Neville and Piapot schools in the southwestern Chinook School Division.

At Tompkins, Grades 6 to 9 will be discontinued.

Climax School will lose Grades 6 to 9 this year and close for good June 30, 2008. Richmound School will also close in 2008.

“Our goal in the school classification process has been to look at the future of Chinook as a rural school division and to ensure we have viable schools in place that students are able to attend within reasonable driving times,” said board chair Gary Shaddock.

Saskatchewan Rivers School Division decided April 23 to close MacDowall School and Prince Charles School, effective Aug. 15.

Two other schools under review, Osborne and Shell Lake, will stay open.

In the North East School Division, the board passed motions May 8 to close Sylvania and Smeaton schools and Broadway Community School in Melfort.

And in the Horizon School Division headquartered in Lanigan, the board decided to discontinue Grades 7 to 9 at Carl Frederickson School in Govan this year and close the school next July. Wishart School will lose Grades 10 to 12 this year.

However, four other schools, Bulyea, Drake, Imperial and Nokomis, survived intact.

Prairie South will announce its decisions after a May 22 meeting; six schools are under review there.

The Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities last week called on the province to intervene and implement a five-year moratorium. A resolution to that effect was passed at its recent annual convention.

SARM said a moratorium would allow communities some time to pursue economic initiatives that could boost their population and perhaps keep schools open.

“While rural Saskatchewan communities are exploring new ways to remain viable and sustainable, the school boards have yanked the rug out from under them,” said SARM president David Marit.

However, learning minister Deb Higgins said that there simply aren’t enough students to justify keeping some of the schools open.

The Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan said the government needs a comprehensive strategy for rural development that includes support for infrastructure like schools.

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