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Two-year pause for GSACRD shakeup

Faith In Our Future plan to be reworked but ESSMY high school likely moved by fall
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TAP THE BRAKES – GSACRD board trustees voted to pause most parts of the Faith in Our Future proposal Monday in the face of strong opposition from parents and students. However, they also voted to advance plans to move ESSMY's high school students to SACHS as early as September 2020.

Marie Poburan will remain as-is for at least two years, says St. Albert’s Catholic school board, but ESSMY may lose its high school by next fall.

Greater St. Albert Catholic School trustees voted unanimously at a special meeting Monday night to rework the Faith in Our Future proposal based on feedback gathered over the last two months and to consult with parents on moving the high schoolers at École Secondaire Sainte Marguerite d’Youville (ESSMY) to St. Albert Catholic High by September 2020.

They also voted 6-1 (Trustee Greg Schell opposed) to vote on such a move this February.

Plan not supported: studies

The votes followed reports from board administration on the recent open house, ThoughtExchange and survey held on the Faith in Our Future proposal, which in its original form would have seen Marie Poburan students moved to ESSMY, ESSMY’s high school students sent to St. Albert Catholic, the St. Gabriel distance learning school and district office moved to the Marie Poburan building, and École Father Jan rebuilt at a new site in Riverside by 2024. The EMP and ESSMY moves were originally supposed to happen by next September, GSACRD board chair Joe Becigneul said in an interview.

“Respondents are not in support of the present conceptual plan to address the drivers in the Faith in Our Future proposal,” assistant superintendent Rhonda Nixon told the board, summarizing comments from some 1,500 people who took part in the proposal’s consultation process.

Respondents said the plan's timeline appeared very fast and felt this plan was a done deal, reports to the board showed. They questioned the proposal’s projected cost savings and wanted to see more options considered, such as moving St. Gabriel and/or district office into ESSMY.

Plan paused – in part

Speaking to about eight parents and kids in the gallery, Becigneul said respondents clearly wanted this process slowed down and to examine alternatives to the proposal. Many also said the issues at district office (costs and security) and St. Gabriel (accessibility) could be solved without affecting other schools.

“The board will be taking no further action to financially invest in capital planning or site readiness for the amalgamation of the EMP and ESSMY (elementary communities) during the current school year,” Becigneul said.

It would, however, continue to investigate said amalgamation along with other options.

Becigneul said plans for St. Gabriel and district office are also on hold for the next two years.

The board is cancelling the January and February open houses on this proposal and would start a new round of talks around March – one that would last into 2022 and examine additional options with aim to have solutions in place by the 2022-23 school year.

But given the fact the board faces a roughly $1.1-million budget shortfall this year due to budget cuts, even after tapping reserves and raising bus fees, and a probable funding freeze for the next four years, the board still has to take steps to save money and up its utilization rates, Becigneul said in an interview.

That means moving ESSMY’s high school – an action respondents showed some support for during consultations, the board heard.

ESSMY has 39 high school students in a French Immersion program also offered at SACHS, Becigneul noted.

“The cost to operate a school for those small numbers when you have the same program in another building just does not make fiscal sense.”

Parents relieved

Parent Susie Sirman said she was relieved to hear Marie Poburan would be safe for at least two years, and hopes the board would continue to involve residents in developing alternatives to the proposal. While the high school move at ESSMY seems like a done deal, she hopes its current students would be allowed to finish high school there.

“We definitely want to continue to support our ESSMY community to ensure that transition, if it is a go, happens as smooth as possible.”

Becigneul said it would be very expensive to let ESSMY’s current Grade 10 and 11 students stay there until graduation, and the board would weigh such costs in its decision.

A summary of the board’s decisions has been posted at www.gsacrd.ab.ca/administration/faithinourfuture.


Kevin Ma

About the Author: Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.
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