Monday November 24, 2014

Cornerstone trustees debate money switch motion

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There isn't enough money in the South East Cornerstone Public School Division's capital works piggy bank to get some necessary work done, especially badly needed roof repairs in Estevan and elsewhere. Then there is that rearrangement of instructional space in the Pangman School.

Those were a couple of topics covered during the June 21 meeting of the public school board of education when they met in Weyburn.

When a motion was brought forward to reallocate school operations money for the Pangman School retrofit, to put it into a capital project, Weyburn trustee Bryan Wilson raised an emotional red warning flag.

Wilson had noted earlier that a lot of the schools in the division required major roof repairs, yet only $500,000 had been allocated for those projects from the provincial government through its new funding formula.

The Estevan Comprehensive School is once again badly needing another major roof  repair and that alone will come with an $800,000 bill, he said.

“Leaking roofs have automatically become our priorities,” said director Marc Casavant.

“So what do we do as a board. Where is our authority?” asked Wilson.

“I guess we lobby, lobby, lobby,” said trustee Audrey Trombley who represents the Midale/Stoughton region at the board table.

“Maybe we need to meet with our MLAs sooner than December each year because we have these capital concerns and they're becoming a big thing,” said Casavant.

“Can we step it up a level, where do we go if we do?” asked Wilson.

“I'm sure every school division in the province has similar stories,” said Trombley.

“But we are Cornerstone and we have to advocate for our students and I guess if that means just meeting with local MLAs, then that is what we do,” Wilson said, noting that ECS was built with a flat roof and “with flat roofs, you get to keep doing them all the time. It never ends.”

The Pangman School project really raised Wilson's ire though, since it meant moving money out of the school operations budget into a capital project mode. That, he felt, was setting a dangerous precedent.
The job calls for the closure of an old portion of the school that can no longer be used for health and safety reasons (mould and other concerns) and relocating students in a newer section of the building.

“So we take money from program reserves and from student outcomes and put it into a capital project,” Wilson said.

Trustee Daryl Harrison (Carnduff/Redvers) said that Wilson should see it as more of a maintenance item in the budget, like painting or other minor repairs and that would qualify as an operations expense. But Wilson wasn't buying that argument.

Len Williams, another Weyburn trustee, wondered out loud what the state of the school division was if they couldn't get money assigned to keep the schools in basic operational mode.

“Admit it. Government took the funding capabilities away from us and now we're so sensitive these days to the government. I just don't think we should be rolling over for them,” said Wilson.

Trustee Kevin Keating (Alameda/Lampman/Oxbow) said the trustees had to first and foremost “look at getting the kids out of an unsafe environment,”  and the $104,000 that was going into the retrofit of the school would get that done.

When it came to a vote, the majority voted in favour of making the monetary switch with Williams and Wilson casting the opposing votes.

Trustee Harold Laich joined the meeting via an audio conference setup as he was unable to attend in person and Estevan representative Janet Foord was absent.

In another bit of business, Shelley Toth, the chief financial officer for Cornerstone, was appointed returning officer for the division's upcoming general election in October.   

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