My son recently returned home from school upset at the news that the library at Nose Creek Elementary was being altered into a multi-use classroom/library because of a shortage of classroom space. He’s a big reader you see. Although I assured him I was certain this did not mean the school would lose all its books, my wife Anita and I were quite concerned. If they were repurposing libraries into full-time classrooms, what would come next? Rows of desks in the hallways? Even more troubling is that I hear these kinds of stories from parents and teachers from almost every school in our community.
As you all know, our city is the fastest growing and among the youngest in the entire province. However, for some reason, the provincial government has ignored the school infrastructure needs of Airdrie. They did so before the last election in 2008. They did so during the two years I was a member of the government caucus, despite Minister Hancock’s repeated insistence to me that he understood the problem. They continue to do so now regardless of the relentless urgings of our school trustees, the mayor, and myself.
That is why I am extremely thankful and proud of what I saw in our community on June 24.
Airdrie’s parent school councils have banded together to create a ‘Council of School Councils’ dedicated to lobbying the provincial government to take immediate action on Airdrie’s school infrastructure crisis. The Council organized a meeting at City Hall last week and invited representatives from the Stelmach government to attend – and, to their credit, they showed up. It was a very well run meeting by Council chair, Donna Pearce, who ensured our community’s message was clearly articulated. Parents let the two Stelmach cabinet ministers know how they felt about the situation in a passionate but civil manner.
Although the ministers predictably defended the PC government’s actions on this file, by the end of the evening, at least one minister seemed better informed on the issue, insinuating that Airdrie was at or near the top of the list when the next set of school-builds are announced.
Although this signal is welcome, even if true, it is insufficient. If the PCs wait to package up the three Airdrie schools with a larger P3 partnership, it could still be four-to-five years before such schools are completed. By then, the situation will be completely out of control with kids being taught in hallways and quite possibly the need to bus several hundred children into Calgary each day.
The government should instead immediately announce the schools, take three boilerplate blueprints from previous builds, put a tender out to builders, and start building. If they did this by fall, we could have our schools ready to go by 2012. This is still late of course, but at least we could find ways to survive until then.
I would ask all Airdrie constituents to call and email the Education Minister, Finance Minister, Infrastructure Minister, Deputy Premier and Premier as soon as possible and tell them to address this situation immediately.
And make it clear that the current deficit is no excuse to delay. Tell them all they have to do is cut their recently announced $2 billion carbon capture and storage boondoggle – they can use $500 million of that to build 20 schools in high needs areas, leaving plenty left over to hire teachers and substantially trim the deficit. Or they can cut the $2 billion they just announced for more public transit in Edmonton and Calgary to say just $1 billion and reallocate the saved $1 billion to build a dozen new schools in high growth communities like ours, hire new teachers for them, and trim the deficit even further.
Tell them it’s about setting priorities and targeting our taxpayer dollars where they are most needed rather than frittering away billions on corporate welfare and projects that can wait. Schools for Airdrie can’t wait. We need them now. We needed them three years ago.
The Council’s website is www.airdrieschools.wordpress.com – if you click ‘Meeting at City Hall a Great Success’ on the top navigation bar you will find links to contact information for the ministers you should email and call, as well a petition to sign. Please cc me on the email at [email protected] and I will make sure to follow up with the government on your behalf.
I want to again thank and congratulate the parents and teachers involved in this initiative for taking action. I am confident that if we pull together as a community and as parents, we can get the provincial government to announce the schools we so desperately need.