An issue that the South East Cornerstone School Division trustees thought they had put to bed reared its head once more last Thursday afternoon during their regular monthly business session in Weyburn.
The matter of students attending schools that are outside their attendance area was brought to the forefront following the departure of an eight-person delegation from the community of Pangman who appeared before the board to discuss the Pangman School review process.
The visitors pointed out that even the news that the school was under review cast a negative pall across the community and was reflected in the business and real estate community in the town of about 250 people located west of Weyburn.
During their session with the trustees, the Pangman group said that while their kindergarten to Grade 12 school had an enrolment of just 70, thus creating the need for the review, they had to point out that about 27 students from the Pangman attendance area were currently being bused to other schools in the division.
Later in the meeting, Cornerstone's director of education Marc Casavant told the board that this year, there had been 96 approved transfer requests in the division while another 13 requests had been denied and that number was down slightly from the previous year. He noted that there is a greater awareness of the process since more people, especially the principals of the sending and receiving schools, are directly involved.
"Principals appreciate the situations, but there are still a few blind spots and there are still some legacy or grandfather issues remaining," Casavant said.
Trustee Audrey Trombley said it was difficult to deal with some of these issues since they become traditional. In some instances families continue to send their children to schools outside their home area or newcomers to the community send their children to a certain school while not even realizing that they are sending them away from their natural school facility.
The trustees agreed that they would attempt to expedite the Pangman review as efficiently as possible. They were informed that the earliest they could deal with the review situation would by February 1.
Shelly Toth, superintendent of division services for Cornerstone, and Casavant, informed the trustees that the review would begin officially November 1 with a continuation date of February 1 which would be the earliest they could exit the review process. If the review were to continue, there would be the need to meet with the community by March 31, 2012 with the meeting to be held in Pangman. The face-to-face discussion would enhance the information gathering process and by April 30 of 2012, a decision would be required.
Weyburn trustee Len Williams said he knew there were a number of reasons for allowing students from one attendance area to attend a school in another area, so the issue was not an easy one to deal with since it was never a black and white decision.
Trombley added that "the principals and families in various regions may not realize that their kids aren't going to the school in the proper attendance area; they're just going there because the family always did that in the past."
Trustee Daryl Harrison said it appeared as if Cornerstone still needed to do some work on defining the attendance areas but agreed with the others that the current policy regarding the requests appears to be working well enough.
Board chairwoman Carol Flynn said the trustees and administration also had to consider bus routes and their efficiencies in terms of time and distances when making the decisions.
Trustee Kevin Keating said, "there has to be a point where we can put this subject to bed. It keeps coming up."
Estevan trustee Janet Foord agreed, but noted the subject will probably keep arising every time schools are put under review since one of the big items that has to be on the table in the review process is enrolment numbers.
"And of course any school under review will look at student numbers they could, or should, have and grasp at that straw," Foord said.
Trustee Harold Laich said it was difficult to be "hard on boundary definitions, especially if families are making the decisions, not the school division. I want to move efficiently on this Pangman issue."
While meeting with the delegation led by Pangman School's Community Council president Elwood White, several points were raised such as continual community growth that has seen the town's population increase along with business opportunities and the perception that the timing of the review was definitely off.
Casavant and Foord explained that the review was mandated provincially since the benchmark for a rural school that offers K to 12 classes required it to have at least 88 students. They went on to note that the board hadn't gone about gathering community information earlier since they wanted the entire process to be open and transparent from the start and that start was this particular meeting with the community's delegation. The delegation included the town's executive development officer Eileen Tunall, Kathy Bryson from the recreation board, mayor Rod Roland and Chuck Jacques, the reeve of the RM of Norton along with White, Brandon Tichkowsky, Brian Jesse and Ken Kessler.
Foord told them that there was no pre-review information gathering since the trustees did not wish to enter into the review with any predetermined or preconceived notions regarding the school's current status and that would include community involvement and input.