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Minister says Yk 1 wasting money on under-used schools

Mike W. Bryant
Northern News Services
Wednesday, March 7, 2007

YELLOWKNIFE - The Yellowknife public school board should stop spending money to keep underused schools open and use the cash to improve classroom services, says Education minister Charles Dent.

"They've made a choice," said Dent. "By keeping schools open, they've put money into administration that could've gone into the classroom."

NNSL Photo/graphic
Charles Dent

Enrolment at Yk Education District No. 1 schools is hovering around 70 per cent, according to the minister.

Dent said it doesn't make sense to have extra principals, teachers, and janitors on staff while there are empty classrooms within the district.

He said his Feb. 27 letter to Yk 1 board chair Terry Brookes is not a demand that the district close a school, but he is "encouraging" them to do so.

"I'm going to encourage (them) financially to look at closing down a school," said Dent.

"And, by the way, now that it's closed why don't you lease it to (Yellowknife Catholic Schools) during the duration of their construction project so their kids don't have to be split up."

The Catholic school district is near full capacity, and a number of Ecole St. Joseph students will have to be relocated while the school undergoes repairs.

Dent's encouragement to cut a school is $300,000 less a year in funds for Yk No.1's budget.

He said public school board trustees are stirring parent advisory groups with news that he is taking away one of their schools.

He said his office has received numerous e-mails from them.

The minister took exception with a Yk 1 notice for a public meeting today, which states the public board wants to find a mutually beneficial solution that supports quality education for "all Yellowknife students."

He said if that was the case, the board should be happy to hand over a school so St. Joe's students can go to school together during renovations instead of being split up among schools all over town.

"I'm trusting that they're going to be interested in making sure Yk 1 does the right thing for kids," said Dent.

The minister has been at the centre of more than one political storm over school space in recent weeks.

Last month, Catholic school board chair Shannon Gullberg accused him of not supporting Catholic education because he wouldn't build them a new school, and wasn't going about renovation plans for Ecole St. Joseph quickly enough.

"I must be doing something right," said Dent.

The minister says he plans to attend tonight's meeting.