Underfunding at root of school changes, Liberals say

Mark Rendell Special to The Telegram
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MHAs react to vote on Mount Pearl schools

Liberal MHAs are accusing the PCs of underfunding education following a recent school board vote for major changes to the Mount Pearl school system.

Saturday’s vote saw St. Peter’s and Newtown elementary schools, previously both kindergarten to Grade 6, become grades K-3 and 4-6, respectively.

The change is meant to deal with overcrowding, but many parents worry it will disrupt their children’s education.

Unnecessary problem

Paul Lane, Liberal MHA for Mount Pearl South, said the decision was the result of government underfunding and “definitely could have been avoided.”

For years, school board trustees “had been given indication through the minister that there would be no capital investment until every square inch of space is used in the schools,” Lane said.

This, meant the board was not given the opportunity to explore building options to reduce overcrowding, he said.

“Will (the education minister) now do the right thing and intervene so that the board is provided with the proper financial resources to do what is right for the children’s education?” Lane asked Monday during question period.

Board decision

Education Minister Clyde Jackman said Saturday’s decision was the school board’s choice and the government would not interfere.

“The school board has made their decision,” Jackman said. “What supports they need financially they will put into us as the Department of Education, and it will go into a budgetary process.”

Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Kent, MHA for Mount Pearl North, said he was disappointed with the school board’s decision and was “going to continue to raise the issue.”

“I’m confident that the majority of people I’ve spoken to are not in favour of the changes that were passed this weekend,” Kent said.

“Catchment realignment is the obvious answer. That doesn’t come without some pain. But it would affect 11 or 12 per cent of families in the areas we’re talking about, whereas the change that’s being made now … will affect close to 50 per cent of families.”

Kent said “there will be some investment required to make sure (the schools affected by the change) are ready for September.”

Resources needed

According to Liberal education critic Dale Kirby, space problems are nothing new.

“Sufficient resources should have been supplied to schools to accommodate the growing population on the northeast Avalon,” Kirby said.

Even with the changes approved by the board Saturday, schools will still be overcrowded, he said. Pairs of rooms in Mount Pearl schools that had been divided into three rooms to accommodate overcrowding will be returned to normal.

But “we’ll still have … kids eating their lunch at their desks, kids doing their physical education classes in facilities that weren’t designed for that.”

There needs to be spending on modular classrooms, also known as portables, he said, to deal with overcrowding in the short term.

“And the problem could be solved at St. Peter’s Elementary and Mount Pearl Senior High by putting extensions on both schools,” added Lane.  

This would require government intervention in school board policy, but it wouldn’t be the first time, Kirby said, citing then-premier Danny Williams’ involvement in keeping Leo Burke Academy in Bishop’s Falls open during a byelection in 2005.

mark.rendell@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Department of Education, Leo Burke Academy

Geographic location: Mount Pearl North, Avalon

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