Enrollment is up significantly in the South East Cornerstone School Division, but there are still three school facilities that qualify for potential review processes that could lead to a proposal for closure, according to provincial criteria. But that is only if the board of trustees decides to pursue the matter.
That was the word coming from the Cornerstone administration in a report filed with the board during their regular open business session on September 16.
Macoun, Wapella and Pangman schools could all be placed under review since they fall under the required minimum enrolment standards set out by the province.
But trustees may circumvent the process, if they so desire, especially if they see improvement or a future upward trend in expected enrollments.
The 38 facilities now in the division house a total of 8,042 students, an increase of 154 over last year's opening enrollment numbers, said Marc Casvant, director of education for Cornerstone.
Last year four schools qualified for possible review, but thetrustees had already served notice that they were not subjecting any school to a review process in 2009-10. The year before that, the locks were put on Frobisher School, the only facility that suffered a closure ruling following extensive review.
Two of the three schools currently subject to review enjoyed enrolment increases while the other showed stability, but one other facility continues to provide a dilemma for the administration and trustees.
Lyndale School in Oungre had a dramatic decrease in school population at the opening of the new school year. Last year the K to Grade 9 facility had a registration of 32 students. This year there are just 18, and perhaps soon to be 17 students taking academic studies.
As a result of the serious decline in registration, the teaching staff was reduced by one. There are now just two teachers on staff at the Oungre school.
Since Lyndale is designated as a "school of necessity," meaning that it is situated in a geographic location that requires its continuance, it cannot be placed under review, or closed thanks to a provincial government edict. Unless that status changes, Cornerstone will have to find a way to provide educational services in Oungre since there are young students in the region who would otherwise have to travel too many kilometres by bus, well beyond the acceptable time and distance recommended by the provincial Ministry of Education.
As far as Macoun School is concerned, the trustees learned that the ministry's criteria called for a minimum enrolment of 51 students to maintain a proper kindergarten to Grade 8 program. Last year Macoun had an enrolment of 36. This year there are 44 students on hand, indicating a significant growth pattern.
Wapella's school, a K to Grade 9 facility, needs a minimum of 58 students under the provincial guidelines. Last year they had 57 and this year they have 53.
The K to Grade 12 school in Pangman required at least 88 students to avoid the review process and they had 66 students enrolled last year and 67 this year.
Last year the Ogema School also was eligible for review if the board had decided to engage in the process, since it had 83 students, but their enrolment soared to 94 this year, placing it well above the minimum requirements.
But when it comes to Lyndale, the conundrum continues.
Bruce Wagner, the trustee who serves that area of the division, said he met with school officials and school community council members shortly after the one teaching position had been cut. The parent group of 13 people expressed fears that the staff could be reduced even more.
"I explained to them that enrolment had dropped before the teacher position was eliminated," said Wagner.
The school presently has four students in the kindergarten program, nobody in Grades 2 or 5 and just one in Grade 9. There are no educational assistants in the school.
"But unless the province changes the designation of it being a remote school, we can't consider its closure," said trustee Audrey Trombley, noting that when the topic of diminishing numbers had been broached a couple of years ago, the board at that time, convinced by the parents that enrolment was going to increase, not decrease, made the decision to keep the school operational.
At that time the trustees weighed in heavily on the fact that in large part, younger students would be spending a lot of time on a school bus, travelling to another school in either Estevan or Weyburn.
Casavant and the trustees noted that parents and students in the immediate region were the ones who had decided to move the student base to other schools.
"We don't have the answers right now, we'll do the best we can under the circumstances," said Wagner.
Cornerstone chairwoman Carol Flynn noted that "we've had a fair bit of commitment to that school already and it will continue."
Lionel Diederichs, the vice-president of finance and administration, said that the school review report is provided annually. The report outlines "where we're at regarding schools that hit the provincial review numbers and then the board decides if they want to place them under formal review."
He said if the trustees decide to do that, they needed to come to a decision before October 15, to provide sufficient advance notice to all those who would have a vested interest in either closing the school or keeping it open and operating.
Trustees noted in the past that enrolment numbers are just one factor taken under consideration when the debates and discussions begin, but generally speaking the enrolment is the trigger that is used to begin the process.