Finding a solution
Westlock County is a somewhat unique area, in the fact that it actually has so many rural schools in its hamlets. In many other rural areas in this province, similar small schools have already been closed.
And with declining enrolment numbers at schools in the northern part of the county, it will take some creative thinking and a lot of community involvement to ensure the schools in Dapp, Jarvie and Fawcett remain open. It has been said before but it bears repeating that a school is the heart of any small community, and the logic isnít hard to follow.
Once a school is taken out of a community, that community becomes substantially less appealing to young families. With fewer families moving into a community, the inevitable trend is a population decline and ultimately, the community may cease to be.
In the case of the schools and communities north of Westlock, this is by no means inevitable.
This week, the Pembina Hills school division will host public consultations to determine the best course of action with respect to the three aforementioned schools. Given the strong sense of community in those three hamlets, itís safe to say those schools wonít be closed without a fight.
The nature and character if that fight, however, has yet to be determined.
The fact of the matter is that the school division has a limited number of dollars, and there is no principal or school council in the division that would tell you their school doesnít need more money. And unless the provincial government decides to drastically increase funding, or the school division decides to drastically increase municipal tax requisitions, theyíll all have to make do with less.
A balance will have to be struck between the cost per student to keep under-utilized schools open, and the potential benefit that money could have in the rest of the division.
This is not to say no creative solutions are possible. The division has already partnered with the local library to provide public branches in Jarvie and Fawcett, and similar space-sharing endeavours are definitely possible.
Everyone with a stake in education in this region should come forward and help come up with a solution; itís not a stretch to say the longevity of some of these communities themselves hangs in the balance.
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