Province plays politics over school renos: principal

Teresa Wright
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The principal of Montague Intermediate says the Education Department is playing politics with parents by suggesting potential solutions to space issues at the school that are not actually feasible.

A letter written by Education Minister Alan McIsaac obtained by The Guardian says department officials plan to suggest the Eastern School District explore a collaboration between Montague Intermediate and the new high school to address infrastructure problems at the junior high.

Students at Montague Intermediate have been walking to the old Montague high school for industrial arts class, even though the building has been closed for more than a year.

Band students have also had to cram into a music room far too small for their needs.

In his letter, sent as a reply to parents who wrote letters of concern to the department, McIsaac gives statistics showing student enrolment at the newly built high school is expected to decrease by a third by 2015 and points out that technology labs at the school were built large enough to accommodate students from nearby schools.

Gordon MacFadyen, director of finance and school board operations for the department, told The Guardian the province wants the district to look into the possibility of moving students from Montague Intermediate into the high school for their industrial arts and music classes as a possible temporary solution to the space problems at the junior high.

“It’s not the first time that would be done,” MacFadyen said.

“Obviously it’s not ideal. Generally it’s in areas where your population is not

large enough to support the program but you want to have those opportunities provided to the children that they try to come up with these kinds of solutions.”

But Montague Intermediate principal Kevin Stonefield says this idea has already been explored and is simply not possible.

The new high school does not even have an industrial arts classroom and the vocational technology labs are already being used by neighbouring schools.

Trades courses are so popular, in fact, there are waiting lists for these classes and the labs are booked solid, Stonefield said.

“If you want to take the 450 kids that take industrial arts in grades 7, 8 and 9 from our school and all the feeder schools and try to put them in a high school that doesn’t have a facility and, if you bend your facility to accommodate the 450 students, your day would probably have to be about 50 to 60 hours which is obviously impossible.”

He said he takes issue with government saying it has no money for the renos needed for his school, given recent provincial expenditures toward, what he termed, ‘questionable’ projects.

“Forty thousand dollars for a new mezzanine at the Liquor Control Commission may not be the wisest place to spend the money when you’ve got a school in Montague that requires a music room for 130 students that only has space for 40 at a time,” Stonefield said.

“They can spend money in other places that are questionable, so I have an issue with that personally when I’m told there’s no money.”

Opposition MLA Steven Myers, who represents the adjacent district where many Montague Intermediate families live, said he is concerned about the wording of McIsaac’s letter to parents.

He believes the tone of the letter hints at the potential of their children being moved into the new high school permanently.

“I feel like that’s almost been used as a threat toward parents to stop talking about it,” Myers said.

He criticized government for not coming up with previously promised funds for this much-needed project.

“The premier had no problem building a brand-new school in his riding.

“He certainly treats himself differently than he treats the rest of us out here.”

Stonefield said his school’s home and school association is also upset at the information in the letter and is writing a letter to the editor of The Guardian about its concerns.

Parents and school officials are upset with the figures and timeline of events presented in the letter and want to clarify the facts.

“It’s very frustrating,” Stonefield said.

“I think there’s a little bit of politics being played here ... it’s frustrating for everybody.”

Organizations: The Guardian, Education Department, Eastern School District Liquor Control Commission The Guardianabout

Geographic location: Montague

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