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Edmonton’s public school board calls on the province to step up funding for new schools

As a new school year begins, Edmonton’s public school board is renewing calls for the province to step up funding to get shovels into the ground and build schools.

The board discussed how to handle growing student enrollment during the first board meeting for the 2022-2023 school year.

“It’s blowing our projections out of the water, to put it simply,” board chair Trisha Estabrooks said in an interview with CBC’s Edmonton AM on Thursday.

The board had initially projected 107,000 students in the district but had close to 110,000 students enrolled once the school year began. It had 105,000 students in the previous school year.

“That kind of growth, even in a city like ours that’s growing so quickly … is still really unprecedented” Estabrooks said.

She said it contributes to what she calls an already existing “critical space crunch.”

LISTEN | Edmonton Public School Board chair talks to CBC’s Edmonton AM about the struggle to build schools to meet growing enrollment:

6:24Edmonton schools are in a capacity crunch

Another influx of new students has the Edmonton Public School Board is calling on the province to fund the building of more schools. After this item came up for discussion at the board’s first meeting of the school year, board chair Trisha Estabrooks joined Edmonton AM to explain the capacity issues and the support EPSB wants from the province.

During its meeting on Tuesday, the board reviewed and amended recommendations to its three-year capital plan for 2023-2026.

Brought to the forefront was the lack of schools in neighborhoods like Edgemont, Glenridding Heights and Rosenthal.

Edgemont was specifically bumped up as a priority by the board after a parcel of land became available for development after the plot owner decided to sell.

Construction would involve the building of a kindergarten to Grade 9 school in the neighborhood.

Provincial support

Discussions have been ongoing between the school board and Education Minister Adriana LaGrange.

Estabrooks said the division has been shut out of new school announcements for the last two years.

“We’re really playing catch up and that’s the message we shared with Minister of Education LaGrange earlier this week,” she said.

“We are in a critical situation … we needed these new schools built yesterday.”

Katherine Stavropoulos, press secretary for the minister, said in an emailed statement Wednesday the department has received EPSB’s priority list for the 2023-26 capital plan.

“It is being assessed alongside other school authority priority lists,” she said. “This work will inform Budget 2023 Capital Plan recommendations.”

The statement also notes that needs are prioritized based on evaluation criteria, including health and safety, enrollment pressures, building conditions, functionality, programming and legal requirements.

The province’s 2022 capital plan includes an investment of $2 billion over three years for the construction of new schools, modernizations and design work to support school priorities.

Ezra and Aileen Sarfo-Mensah stand with their mother, Millicent Asiedu, in an empty field beside their Edgemont neighborhood. They hope a school is built here as soon as possible. (Madeleine Cummings/CBC)

With a new school opening possibly still years away, the wait is tough for some parents like Millicent Asiedu.

It takes her six-year old son, Ezra, half an hour to ride the school bus to school.

“It seems like with Edgemont, things are a lot slower than we had imagined,” Asiedu said. “It’s just really sad and it just tells us that our kids don’t matter at this time.”

She said other newer neighborhoods developed around the same time have access to more recreational and educational amenities.

Chart showing school bus commute times and drop-offs for students in the Edgemont, Rosenthal and Glenridding neighborhoods.
This chart by the Edmonton Public School Board shows that due to capacity limitations, students are being bused to three different elementary schools, three junior high schools and two senior high schools. (Edmonton Public Schools)

The situation is taking an emotional toll on her son, according to Asiedu.

“It’s quite isolating for him because he has to make friends with kids who aren’t in his neighborhood,” she said.

“But he had [gone to school] in this neighborhood that would really help him build that community and form friendships with people that he will see often.”

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