Why we need a long-term moratorium on school closures

In today’s Edmonton Journal, Trustee Dave Colburn published a letter regarding school closures and the complexities behind the issue. In his letter, he writes “At a recent forum for Edmonton Public trustee candidates in Ward F, two of three candidates committed to a moratorium on school closures.” As the candidate proposing the longest moratorium on school closures at this forum, I want to applaud Trustee Colburn for submitting his thoughts to the Edmonton Journal and spend a bit of time explaining why even a short moratorium is not good enough for the people of Edmonton.

Other candidates have acknowledged the complex considerations behind school closures. These include the impact on families and students along with various administrative factors like space utilization, the financial costs of public consultation, and forensic examination of the school’s budget. These are not the only considerations, however, and they are by no means the most important kinds of considerations for a school trustee. School trustees have to work together and look beyond students and administration to see the bigger picture. And the bigger picture in Edmonton is clear: a long-term moratorium on schools closures is a must.

First, we have to give affected communities a chance to come forward with ideas and solutions for schools with declining enrollment. School trustees have to ask the public what social services they need then go about providing these services out of community schools with surplus space. Trustees have to solicit the community for groups and organizations that need affordable rental facilities then establish district-wide policies that make Joint Use Agreements more responsive and effective. If we want communities to breath new life into their schools, the school board must ensure that the administration’s response to community groups is predictable, fair, and governed by clear policy. These kinds of policies aren’t developed overnight so we cannot settle for a short-term moratorium.

Second, we have to consider the imminent demand that will be placed on these schools. These schools are being closed in neighbourhoods where densification is accelerating and demographics are rejuvenating. Candidates who fail to acknowledge these realities probably lack the perspective we need on our school board. These are also the candidates who favour a short-term moratorium because they think another feasibility study from administration is sufficient information to make these tough decisions. Edmontonians need big picture thinkers that look beyond the administration building and see the whole city. And the big picture suggests a brighter future for these schools as core neighbourhoods continue to develop. Let’s adopt a long-term moratorium so we can be sure we aren’t throwing away the public’s investment in these schools too soon.

Third, the door has opened to increased collaboration between school government, city government, and provincial government. I began my campaign in May advocating for, among other things, deeper collaboration between Edmonton Public Schools, City Hall, and the Legislature. Since then, Mayor Mandel has announced a plan to establish School Revitalization Zones, an initiative welcomed by Councilors like Don Iveson. This reflects a new era of cooperation between the various levels of government in our province, and it moves the quiet tri-level discussions begun in December between Edmonton Public Schools, City Hall, and the provincial government out into the public spotlight.

During these exciting times, Edmontonians need school trustees with the skills and experience to be effective board governors and responsive elected representatives. Working with the public, big picture thinking, and collaboration with other politicians and officials are the bread and butter of board governance and elected representation, and this is where my experience lies. I have served on the boards of the Edmonton Public Library and the University of Alberta. I also know first-hand the needs of communities as Marketing Director for the Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues. And as former president of 36,000 students at the University of Alberta’s Students’ Union, I know how to work hard as an effective elected representative.

Edmonton Public Schools needs a long-term moratorium on school closures so that better practices can be put in place. On October 18th, make sure you cast your ballot for school trustee, and make sure you vote for a school closure strategy that works for Edmonton.