Town council right to start the conversation on school facilities

September 18, 2017, 1:47 pm


The town of Moosomin wants to begin the discussion on how to accommodate future growth of the student population in Moosomin.

There are more than 660 students in Moosomin’s two schools now, and that is projected to increase by another 100 students within the next three years.

The town is right to bring up this issue now. The town is growing and has an active economic development committee that hopes to bring more businesses to town. What might the school situation look like 10 years from now? This is the time to have that conversation and plan for the future, not five years from now.

Infrastructure spending in the division for the last few years seems to have been concentrated in Estevan and Weyburn. After spending $41 million to renovate Weyburn Comp to accommodate students down to Grade 7, the next plan is for a new elementary school for Weyburn to replace existing schools.

The school division’s 2015-2016 annual report lists $4,577,203 in spending on infrastructure projects.

Of that, $4,064,685, or 89 per cent, was spent on just two schools—Weyburn Comprehensive and Estevan Comprehensive. Only 11 per cent was spent on the rest of the division outside Weyburn and Estevan.

The school division’s 2014-2015 annual report lists $19,619,557 in spending on infrastructure projects. Of that, $18,525,396 or 94.4 per cent was spent on the same two schools—Weyburn Comprehensive and Estevan Comprehensive. The majority of the rest was spent on another Weyburn school, Assiniboia Park School. Add in the $562,110 spent on that school, and 97.3 per cent of the reported infrastructure spending that year was spent in Estevan and Weyburn, with 2.7 per cent spent on the rest of the division.

You can’t help but wonder about fairness when you look at those figures. If you were to take a look around Estevan Comp or Weyburn Comp you would see that they have facilities other schools can only dream of.

Despite that, August of 2013, the board of education voted to spend $225,000 to upgrade the track at Estevan Comp to help Estevan’s bid to attract the Saskatchewan Summer Games.

School board member Harold Laich of Wawota commented at a board meeting at the time, “Finally, after Weyburn getting everything, Estevan finally got something.”

It was supposed to be a joke because of the tens of millions spent on Weyburn every year, but if you compare the spending in the two cities in the division with local schools there’s not much to laugh about.

A quick look at the track behind MacLeod School that is shared with McNaughton High will tell you that the school division has not spent $225,000 upgrading it recently. In Rocanville a group that wants to build a track for the school has to fundraise locally.

Moosomin area trustee Carol Flynn says looking back on the decision to spend that money on the track at Estevan, the same decision might not be made today.

She says part of the reason the board decided to put money into the track at Estevan was because all students in the division can benefit by having the division track finals at Estevan. She said having one nice track facility in one location benefits everyone.

Why the board would decided that it needed its one nice facility to be at Estevan, more than a two hour drive on a school bus from students in this area—as opposed to another more central location—is anyone’s guess, especially when the grounds of Estevan Comp already have tennis courts, a full football field, a full soccer field, paved parking lots, and other facilities that would be the envy of any other school. At the time, the discussion was about helping secure the Saskatchewan Summer Games for Estevan, which seems like an odd priority for education dollars.

Contrast that with Moosomin, where the school division asked the town this summer to pay for part of the cost of replacing the sidewalk leading to the front doors of the high school. The mayor pointed out that the sidewalk up to the school is the responsibility of the school division, but implored the division reconsider its plan to dramatically narrow the sidewalk. The division didn’t listen, and replaced a wide sidewalk with a much narrower version bounded for some reason with piles of sand.

Carol Flynn says things have changed and dollars are tighter, but to not even listen to a community’s concerns on something as simple as a concrete sidewalk seems like a poor way to treat the division’s third largest community that already has so much less in terms of facilities than the two big comprehensive schools in the cities.

Estevan Comp has almost exactly twice as many students as McNaughton High School—729 as opposed to 360. If it had twice as many staff, it would have 70 people on staff. But according to its staff directory it has 83 staff. Some of those are because of services you are paying for with your tax dollars that are provided by your school division to students in Estevan and Weyburn but not to our local schools. Just for one small example, your property tax dollars help to fund three cafeteria workers who provide hot, nutritious, healthy meals to students at the Estevan Comp, a service that you pay for but your kids will never use.

The trends are clear. McNaughton High School’s initial enrolment was higher than projected this fall, and is projected to rise by another 100 students in three years. The town has an active economic development committee that is working with businesses. Now is the time to review future needs and come up with a plan for educational facilities that will serve our community into the future. Part of that review should be to ensure that students in communities like Moosomin have access to facilities and services comparable to their fellow students in the same school division, in Weyburn and Estevan.