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Cornerstone board: Lyndale pleads for minimum staffing

The Lyndale School Community Council made a plea to the Southeast Cornerstone School Division not to reduce staffing levels any lower than two at their school, and asked for this assurance to be made in writing.

The Lyndale School Community Council made a plea to the Southeast Cornerstone School Division not to reduce staffing levels any lower than two at their school, and asked for this assurance to be made in writing.

Members of the council visited as a delegation to the board meeting on Thursday afternoon, and said their request was as much to assure the staff as to assure families and parents that the school board will support the school.

Due to the school's location in Oungre, with the nearest larger centre at least 40 miles away, Lyndale School is classified as a "school of necessity" under provincial legislation, and as such cannot be closed as a K-8 school. The school already underwent a reduction in grades and staff as they lost their high school grades last year.

The school started out the year with three staff members, but when the enrolment was only 18 students in six of the eight grade levels, the Cornerstone board cut one staff member reducing it down to two.

Glenn Walkeden acted as the spokesman for the delegation, and described the challenges that the two staff members are having in preparing to teach multiple grade levels.

"If our numbers get below 18, are we going to go and lose another teacher?" he asked.

He pointed out that the school is a scant eight miles from the U.S. border, and as a result have had a couple of lockdowns already. None of the children live in Oungre, so all of them are bussed in, so in the event of a lockdown or in the winter if a storm hits, they have to stay at the school - and Walkeden said they fear one staff member having to handle this situation if the board takes away another staff member.

"If we could get it in writing that there will always be two teachers, then the chances of them transferring out would be a lot less," said Walkeden. "The teacher becomes a part of the community; we would hate to lose them. We're really fortunate to have the teachers who are left. We've had some excellent teachers and have been blessed to get them. We're also showing the community that the board of education is behind us too."

Walkeden said he contacted the ministry of Education to find out if they have any policies about how a "school of necessity" is to be treated, and commented that no one at the department seemed to know anything about the classification, or else they didn't want to say anything about it.

"We'd like to see something in writing that we're protected as a school, and as a professional staff," he said.

Asked by trustee Daryl Harrison if there is a suggested enrolment level at which the board should consider whether to keep staffing at one or two, council member Janice Ashworth responded, "I wouldn't even put a number on it. What if we're a K-9 school with 10 kids? Can one staff member teach eight grades and do a good job? Could you do it? We all know the answer to that."

She added since no information could be obtained from the department, they were trying to find information from other isolated schools to see how they have handled staffing and a low enrolment.

Marc Casavant, director of education, indicated he and his staff are also trying to gather information on the issue, and noted the only schools he had experience with that were in a similar situation as Lyndale were Hutterian schools.

"We too know the frustration about not getting answers," said trustee Audrey Trombley, asking what the community commitment is to the staffing level.

Walkeden pointed out that just that morning Lyndale had 95 people out for a pancake breakfast at the school, and he heard there are five or six new young families who are moving into the area.

Trustee Harold Lach wanted to make sure that the council members weren't asking for the third staff member to be restored, and Walkeden confirmed this was not what they were asking, just that the minimum staffing level be kept at two.

"We're asking for it and our teachers are asking for it. If we lose these teachers, any new teacher looking at this school where they'd have to teach four grades, they're going to say 'no'," said Walkeden.

Trustee Len Williams asked if the council considered reducing the grades so Lyndale was a K-6 school, and Walkeden replied, "If we do that, it would drop our students down further. Why would we do that when the finances are there and the building is there?"

"I totally understand that, but I was looking at it from the teacher's point of view," replied Williams.

Local trustee Bruce Wagner indicated after the meeting the board will discuss the request at the next management meeting, prior to the next board meeting.

In other board business, the board wants to lobby the Saskatchewan School Boards Association (SSBA) to ask the province that any requests for exemption from property taxes should be totally taken on by the municipal level of government, and school boards ought not to be involved.

Trustee Trombley said prior to the board amalgamation which created the huge Cornerstone board area, there was provision for municipalities to exempt a property from taxation if it belonged to a charitable organization or they felt it would benefit the community, such as a seniors centre or a golf course.

"In a small school division, that was quite common; in a large school division, there would be thousands of these kinds of requests. If, say, a day care was asking for exemption, how does that affect other taxpayers?" she asked. "They said a school board has to get local government approval before they'd get that exemption. That legislation has been changed."

She went on to point that current legislation allows a municipality to make provision for cancellation of all taxes, municipal and school, and added, "Then they simply have to collect more taxes so they pay the school board's share."

The board, along with the Holy Family Catholic board, will put forward a resolution to the SSBA to lobby the government "for the removal of the involvement of school boards from exemptions to taxation."

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