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School board discusses important issues with MLAs; Minister

South East Cornerstone School Division (SECSD) board trustees recently met with local MLAs, including the Minister of Education, to discuss a variety of issues important to both the school division and education in general.

South East Cornerstone School Division (SECSD) board trustees recently met with local MLAs, including the Minister of Education, to discuss a variety of issues important to both the school division and education in general.

Board members engaged MLAs Dan D'Autremont and Don Toth and Minister of Education Donna Harpauer around a number of topics currently facing South East Cornerstone, including capital assets for school roofs and buildings, the provincial capital funding budget, public section information and schools of necessity.

"We are very pleased to have had the opportunity to speak with our MLAs on these key issues facing South East Cornerstone School Division. Although we only had a short time in which to engage them, we had their attention for the entire meeting," said director of education Dr. Marc Casavant. "They were interested in our concerns and asked many follow-up questions to further understand our situation. Their curiosity was greatly appreciated."

During the meeting, Casavant explained that South East Cornerstone has nearly $6 million worth of repairs to make on school roofs. Pictures and video evidence were shown to support this. With more and more leaks occurring at schools, additional funding from the government is necessary to stem the tide of problems. For example, $130,000 was spent to do a full repair job on the roof at Maryfield School. However, division administration cannot get the approval for funding fast enough to fix the roofs because the Ministry of Education has to approve it first.

What trustees would like to see is for a block of funding set aside for school divisions to use as discretionary capital. It would not be added to an existing yearly budget but be a separate discretionary fund to allow Boards to prioritize some areas that desperately need repairs.

Harpauer told trustees she is behind them in how funding should look. The government needs to get money into the system quickly to address the problems, but will not borrow money to do so. The process needs to become more streamlined and more flexibility worked into capital funding first.

Regarding the capital funding budget, the board hopes to see some flexibility in it, particularly in having some transition time of when a project starts to when it ends. This would address and meet the infrastructure needs of a project. For example, the cost of the new Oxbow school went up considerably due to the length of the project from start to finish.

D'Autremont stated the process of how the money is allotted needs to be looked at, because if a certain amount of money is given to a school division, that money would be gone by the end of the year and would no longer be available.

Board trustee Bryan Wilson raised a few issues affecting the Public Section of the Saskatchewan School Boards Association, including: ongoing mediation between the Public and Catholic sections; the criteria for approving capital projects in a rural versus urban setting; the criteria in provincial legislation regarding the creation of a separate school division; and the Mandate Issue, which sees separate school divisions accepting non-Catholic students into their schools.

The Public Section would appreciate the government taking the Mandate Issue to The Court of Queen's Bench as a Constitutional Reference Question, which would give the Public Section a rule on the issue without the long and expensive litigation process, Wilson explained. And since the government is funding all sides - public, separate and the province - it would be prudent to get a resolution to the Mandate Question in a time- and cost-effective way.

Regarding the legislation around the creation of separate school divisions, Wilson suggested the criteria should be reviewed so new divisions can more accurately reflect the wishes of faith-based people when it comes to creating new school divisions. The legislation should reflect the current contemporary situation in the province. These changes will have to be agreed upon at the mediation table.

The issues facing the South East Cornerstone's only school of necessity, Lyndale School in Oungre, were explained to the MLAs, including the recent reduction in teaching staff and concerns over providing adequate support for the students with such limited staff.

Board chair Carol Flynn pointed out the Ministry has established guidelines for the number of students and distances between schools. Schools of necessity have been designated by the Ministry. Flynn requested that the Ministry provide adequate financial support to appropriately staff schools of necessity. To date the Board is unable to make assurances to staff and the community about staffing at that school.