School board, province say no changes coming until 2014
Grade 2 students Riley Hickey and Katie Whiteway hold a sign at the St. Peter’s Elementary protest in Mount Pearl Friday morning. — Photo by James McLeod/The Telegram
About a hundred parents and children gathered outside St. Peter’s Elementary in Mount Pearl Friday morning to demand the government do something immediately about overcrowding at the school.
By the end of the day, both the school board and provincial government responded with a firm “No.”
The school was designed for 450 students, but currently holds around 750 during the school year; classrooms have been subdivided and some students are forced to eat lunch at their desks because there’s no room in the cafeteria.
Parents also complained that the computer lab is the latest casualty in the search for more classroom space, and because of tweaks to the teacher allocation formula this year, the school will now get by with one vice-principal instead of two.
“Eva has to each lunch every day at her desk, and there’s no room to move in her classroom,” said Darlene Haas, whose daughter goes to the school. “She shares a locker with one other person. In the wintertime you can imagine that there’s boots and hats and coats and everything, and she has to share a locker.”
Eva said last year her classroom was so crowded “you could barely move” and her little brother has to do gym class in the cafeteria.
“Something is wrong with the math when you’re adding students and subtracting teachers,” said Derek Sullivan, who chairs the school council at St. Peter’s.
Sullivan said parents understand that a new school can’t be built overnight, but they want the provincial government to reverse the decision that cut their second vice-principal position.
“I think that is a reasonable compromise to a long-term overcrowding situation that can’t be solved overnight,” he said. “We need to look at the school, we need to take short-term measures to address some of the concerns on overcrowding, and we need to work in concert with Eastern School District on the longer-term plan.”
Education Minister Clyde Jackman said the decision to change the teacher allocation formula was a “budget decision” and it’s not one he’s going back on.
Jackman said about a hundred schools in the province had administrative positions cut.
“This is not an area that I’ll be intervening in,” he said. “To say that we want the half-time administration back, well, we’ve got a hundred schools in the province that are in the same situation.”
Mount Pearl MHA Paul Lane was at the protest Friday morning; he said he’s been working with parents at the school since he was elected in 2011, and he acknowledges that there are serious issues in the school.
Lane said that two years ago, he was told by the Eastern School District that they’d do a review of the Mount Pearl schools with an eye to rezoning and easing the pressure off St. Peter’s Elementary.
“Assurances were given by the board that a study was going to be done,” Lane said. “It didn’t happen.”
More recently, the board has promised to do a review this year, which means that changes won’t
be implemented until the fall of 2014.
“We’ve been assured this time, in no uncertain terms, that there will definitely be a study done of the area,” Lane said.
Tony Stack, assistant director of education programs with Eastern School District, said he couldn’t explain why a study of the problems with overcrowding wasn’t dealt with years ago.
He said he didn’t know anything about a past promise to study the overcrowding problems in Mount Pearl.
“I’m not aware of any study that was committed to,” he said. “I’m not sure what study is being spoken of here.”
But Stack promised the school board will definitely do a study this year, and so some sort of fix is only about a year away.
“We recognize that St. Peter’s Elementary is at capacity and we know that there have to be changes made, but we’re not going to make those changes without the benefit of consultation with parents,” he said. “When I say parents, I mean parents right across the Mount Pearl school system. There’s more schools involved here than just
St. Peter’s Elementary.”