May 27, 2014 8:31 pm

UPDATE: Wetaskiwin schools will stay open

Its was standing room only at the Wetaskiwin Regional Public Schools meeting Tuesday evening.

Wes Rosa, Global News

EDMONTON – Two Wetaskiwin elementary schools which were up for closure due to declining enrollment have been spared.

The decision was an emotional one. Several times during the debate Tuesday evening, the Wetaskiwin Regional Public School Board was interrupted by frustrated parents and members of the community who were concerned the decision to close the schools had already been made.

The most emotional moment came when the vote to defeat the motion to close down the schools came down.

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Cheers erupted and parents hugged one another, overjoyed that Pipestone and Lakedell schools — which they believe to be the heart of their community — will be staying.

“I’m in utter disbelief that the vote has been cast to keep our schools open,” said Sarah Slater Kelly, chair of the Lakedell Parent Council. “I’ve had my fingers crossed for a miracle, for the possibility that that could happen…so I’m just completely elated.”

The vote was four-four, but the board chair — being the deciding vote — chose to shut down the motion to close the schools. She then made an emotional plea to parents to come up with solutions for what could be a tough future for the roughly 310 who attend Pipestone, Lakedell, and Falun Schools.

The initial motion proposed closing down Pipestone and Lakedell schools, and combining them with the nearby Falun school.

Although things will be staying “status quo” for now, this isn’t the end of the battle for the municipality.

Terry Pearson, the  superintendent of Wetaskiwin Regional Public Schools, says the next step will be to work with stakeholders to come up with solutions for the future. That may include lobbying the government to look at a needs-based funding model, as opposed to the per-capita funding model that is currently in place.

“This is when the work just starts,” said Tim Belec, with Friends of Wetaskiwin Rural Schools. “The parents have to really get engaged here because the crux of the problem is the funding issue.”

“We have to do a better job of funding these rural schools. We’ve got to meet the need, because we’re not.”

Wetaskiwin is located about 70 kilometres south of Edmonton.

With files from Quinn Ohler, Global News

© Shaw Media, 2014

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