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Alberta school on verge of being shut down despite growing attendance

Click to play video 'School board looks at closing Ministik School' School board looks at closing Ministik School
WATCH ABOVE: Parents don't want to see a small school in rural Strathcona County close. Quinn Ohler has more on the fight to save Ministik School.

The Elk Island Public School division is looking at closing one of its schools in rural Strathcona County.

The board of trustees put forward a motion in mid-December to consider the possible closure of Ministik School, but parents are doing everything they can to keep the doors open.

“I feel sick over the thought of the school closing,” said Karla Hope, whose son Eli is in Grade 2. She’s hoping to send her other son to Ministik to start kindergarten in the fall.

“As a parent I feel that it is my right to choose where my kids go to school.

“This is where my children want to be,” she told Global News.

“It’s a hub for people,” said Tammy Reil, who has both a son and daughter attending classes there. “This school is more than just numbers and statistics.”

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Ministik Elementary has approximately 128 students and according to parents Global News spoke with, the school’s attendance has been growing.

The school was founded in the early 1900s and the current building was constructed in 1951.

There’s also four portable classroom on the site and the Elk Island Schools superintendent, Mark Liguori, said they have outlived their lifespan and have issues with mould and mildew. Lead pipes have also caused problems for the school’s water supply. Liguori said it is safe for students but it’s something the board is considering.

One of the reasons the school is on the chopping block is finances. Liguori said in 2015, the school board expended $1.7 million more than it brought in from the province.

“If we continue on that, it’s unsustainable. So as a board, we need to take that fiscal reality seriously,” he said. “One of the options we have looked at is what kind of infrastructure do we have and is there possibilities that we are able to consolidate space.”

The school board has also looked into its operations, personnel and programming.

If the school is shut down, Liguori said at this point it’s hard to know how much it would save the school division but he estimates it to be between $400,000 and $450,000 a year.

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Students have a number of options for other schools in the area. The closest is Fultonvale Elementary Junior High, located 16 kilometres away.

Parents said that would not only put a strain on their kids, but also the kids who attend the other school.

“They could possibly have another 100 kids just plopped in their laps,” Hope said.

“(My son) said, ‘If Ministik closes, I think I want to be home-schooled,” she said. “It breaks my heart, it really tells me that his heart is here.”

For Reil, the thought of losing the school causes her to get emotional. She knows her daughter will be OK at another school but is worried about her son.

“The anxiety he’s had about going to another school is devastating for me,” she said through tears. “He doesn’t know where he’s going to fit in. Here, he knows.”

The school division hosted a meeting at the school – located at 21246 Highway 14 in Sherwood Park – on Tuesday that saw dozens of parents attend and speak passionately about their desire to keep it open.

“The school is so important to the community,” said Curtis Perrott, a father of four boys at Ministik. “It’s where families come together.”

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“Taking this away would rip the heart out of our community.”

“From an educational standpoint, this school is everything to my family,” said Sam Hofmeyer, a father of a Grade 1 student at the school. “My wife and I moved out here 10 years ago for the specific reason that this small school with such a fantastic reputation was here.”

Both Perrott and Hofmeyer also said the school has produced better than average results in standardized testing and student achievement.

“We have a community that’s passionate,” Liguori acknowledged. “They want a school in their community, they feel that it is a viable school that serves the community well and they don’t want to see it go.”

The school division will host another meeting at the school on Feb. 15 at 6:30 p.m. It is also accepting written feedback.

Parents have created a website as part of their effort to save the school.