Sylvania school as seen today is "under review"

More threats of rural school closures

Edgeley, Sundayt February 25, 2007, by : Christine Whitaker

For years politicians and government bureaucrats have paid lip service to the concept of rural revitalisation. Now they sit in their offices and watch while the monster school divisions they have created pound the last nails into the coffins of one rural community after another.

The McLean elementary school is one of eleven small schools currently "under review" by the Prairie Valley School Division (PVSD). On January 17th, area residents packed the gym to hear officials explain the board’s Viable Schools Policy, (which can be read at

Because there are only 60 students currently enrolled and there are multi-grade classrooms, the cost per student at this school is higher than the division average. Closing the school would save approximately $190,000 - a mere 0.24% of the board’s $80 million annual budget.

However, there are other important factors missing from these calculations. In the first place, school divisions are not major corporations, shutting down factories which are no longer profitable. Rather, their first duty is to maintain schools, and closing them should not be the preferred option for budget trimming. Schools belong not to the boards but to the communities, and trustees have a moral obligation to consider the wishes and needs of the people they are supposed to serve.

Sylvania's curling and skating arena

There are only two elementary schools within the boundaries of my rural municipality; one in McLean and another in the town of Qu’Appelle. The residents of the RM and of these two small urban centres pay a combined total of $1.5 million in education property taxes to the PVSD. Surely this should be sufficient to ensure that our schools remain open.

As the meeting progressed it became painfully obvious that, in spite of protestations to the contrary, the decision had already been made. We were even told how many students from the McLean school would be transferred to each of the other area schools.

The closure of a school is a severe blow to a community. The village of McLean and the surrounding rural area has enjoyed modest growth in recent years. Young families are drawn to the district partly because their children may attend a small school. If that facility is closed, people will move away. There will be a glut of homes on the market, and residential property values will go into an irreversible decline. What the school board fails to realise is that there will eventually be a corresponding drop in the taxable assessment of the area and therefore fewer available education tax dollars.

Another factor which school boards seem to ignore is the social development which occurs when children are educated in a smaller setting. I know from my own teaching experience that children from small schools are usually well-adjusted and self-assured; they have learned to care for each other and to have a healthy tolerance for the foibles and differences of their peers. There are few opportunities for verbal or physical bullying when every teacher knows every child and no-one gets lost in the crowd. Students who grow up in such an environment take a community spirit with them when they move on to the high school. It is not possible to put a monetary value on that kind of learning and development.

There have been two major rounds of school district amalgamations since I retired from teaching, and I do not believe that the creation of the mega school divisions has been in the best interests of either our children or their teachers.

I do know that there has been an alarming proliferation of middle management in school division offices. A study of the organizational charts on the PVSD web site reveals that there are 91 persons working under the Director of Education, at least 20 of whom are health or social services professionals. If it is necessary to have these services available in the schools, the costs should be borne by the appropriate provincial departments, not by property tax payers.

It is a sad fact that the creation of large school districts has spawned a huge and complex machinery for the delivery of education. As a result, the preservation of small communities has been relegated to the bottom of the list of priorities.


Christine Whitaker

Sylvania's elevator

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