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Grande Prairie school funding included in Budget 2017

Local school districts will have to wait until next week to find out where they’re getting funding for school infrastructure. Grande Prairie is one of the communities Joe Ceci referenced in his Budget 2017 speech, as he announced 24 new and modernized schools.

“Right now, we’re dealing with issues of over-crowding and buildings that have been allowed to fall into disrepair… That’s not right, and the decision to fix those issues for our kids shouldn’t be dependent on oil price decisions made half a world away.”

While he’s grateful to see school fees cut and funds allocated for playgrounds, Secretary-Treasurer Jeff Olson says the Public School District has its fingers crossed for a replacement for the Composite High School.

“Because this new high school that we want is 1,600 [students] expandable to 2,000, we figure that without it, within three to four years we’ll be at 100 per cent plus capacity of our schools; that’s because even though we’re in a downturn in the economy, things are still happening.”

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Right now between the Comp and Charles Spencer they’re around 80 per cent filled. In the meantime, Olson says he’s also happy to see enrolment increases are still being funded. The district has seen anywhere between 3 and 7 per cent growth over the past several years.

“One per cent of our total population of 8,000 students that we’ve got works out to about 80 students. Now, that doesn’t sound like a lot, but that produces about an extra $500,000 in funding, which means more teachers and more teacher aides which keeps our class sizes down.”

Grande Prairie and District Catholic Schools Superintendent Karl Germann says he’s also happy that their growth will still be funded. They saw 6.3 per cent more students this year.

Because of that growth, he’s looking forward to where provincial funds will be allocated in his district. Germann says the modernization of St. Patrick’s is a critical project.

“We had the government do a number of reports and recently they just sent one to us in February where the engineers and architects went thoroughly through the entire school, and it would need some immediate upgrades of about $600,000 within the next six months and then it needs millions done to it for that building to remain where it is.”

Germann says the district has done its best to respond to enrolment pressures, but once they move forward with St. Patrick’s, the next step is more schools.

“We want to make sure we’ve got the right spaces for people to teach in, because we’ve had some silliness in the past where people are teaching in staff rooms and teaching in libraries. Those are short, interim measures, but we don’t want that to occur in the long-term.”

Until the official word is made, Germann applauds the $451 million committed keeping the education system inclusive, which supports refugee and First Nation, Metis and Inuit students.

Both the Composite High School and St. Patrick School were on the province’s unfunded list last year, but haven’t been included in the budget. However, Peace Wapiti School Division’s request for a new K–8 school in Heritage Heights or Flying Shot Lake remains.

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