Parents hope to save historic rural school facing funding cuts near Calmar

Click to play video: 'Some rural Alberta schools’ futures in jeopardy'
Some rural Alberta schools’ futures in jeopardy
WATCH ABOVE: Some rural schools in Alberta are on the line because of recent budget cuts. Breanna Karstens-Smith reports – Mar 10, 2020

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify funding to school boards announced in the 2020 provincial budget.

A group of community members south of Calmar are hoping to save a 120-year-old school currently in jeopardy.

New Humble Centre School was first built in 1900. The current school is the third building that has been on the site.

On January 8, the Black Gold School Division Board approved a Notice of Motion to consider closing the school as of June 30.

The division said the decision is based on “the current financial reality and the enrollment growth BGSD is experiencing.”

Budget 2020 did not increase funding to match enrolment growth, and asked school boards across the province to use $121 million of their own funding to meet operational needs, from cash reserves and sources like vending machines and community rentals.

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“The notice of motion/potential closure of New Humble Centre School is one of many cost-saving solutions being explored,” Black Gold Associate Superintendent Norm Dargis wrote to Global News in a statement.

There are currently 57 students at the school which has capacity for 85.

It’s expected that if it doesn’t close, there would be 54 students in the Grade 1 to 6 school next year.

If the school does close, students would be relocated to another Black Gold School Division School. The most likely option would be Calmar Elementary School which is 10.5 kilometres from New Humble.

While the division says that would only add an additional 13 minutes each way on the bus for some students, some parents believe it could be more.

“A friend of mine, she’s concerned that her kids would be on the bus for over an hour each way. And they’re young. You’re talking about a six, seven, eight year old,” said parent Kristen Kuhn.

“That’s too long. It’s getting up too early, it’s disrupting their sleep.”

Kuhn and other parents are hoping to save the school.

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They’ve developed business plans and have drafted solutions.

They believe the school could offer special programming like agricultural courses which could attract more students including from urban centres.

The group says school days could also be shortened to save money.

Pam Hebner has one son in the school and another child who would start attending next year.

She says the school division has not been receptive to their ideas.

“When it all started they said, ‘No stone left unturned.’ That they would do everything they could, look at all avenues,” Hebner said. “But since that started, we’re the ones that have been turning the stones. We’re the ones with the calloused hands.”

Both Hebner and Kuhn say rural schools offer something larger schools like the ones in Calmar can’t provide and that they help keep families in farming.

“Rural schools are the root of a community. It’s what starts the kids and it keeps the families coming back. So losing that is a big deal,” said Hebner.

The group trying to save New Humble are also concerned about losing the school and its history in their community.

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Those community members will be able to share their concerns with the division on Wednesday. A public meeting will be held at the school at 6 p.m. to discuss the potential closure.

The board will make a decision on April 22.

Round Hill School, a K-9 school near Camrose, is also in jeopardy of closing because of funding cuts.

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