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Long-term fate of Rochester School to be determined in January

Aspen View trustees table topic to ensure community is heard
Rochester School_AVPS_WEB
Aspen View trustees will have until January to review information on the long-term viability of Rochester School, which has seen its enrolment numbers fall dangerously low.

ATHABASCA – Aspen View Public Schools (AVPS) trustees will have a tough decision ahead of them at their upcoming Jan. 25 meeting — Rochester School enrolment continues to be lower than projected, and the board will have to decide if the doors will remain open for the 2024-2025 school year.

During the Nov. 23 board meeting, trustees voted 7-0 in favour of a motion to table discussion around the viability of Rochester School to the Jan. 25 meeting after administration provided them with data outlining the precarious nature of the school’s enrolment.

Aspen View voted to keep Rochester School open for the 2023-2024 school year during an April 21, 2022, meeting after the division had retained Focus 10 Educational Consulting Group Inc. to analyze the situation. During the vote, trustees made an additional motion to review enrolment and reconsider the decision for the 2023-2024 school year.

AVPS superintendent Constantine Kastrinos said his door was open for community consultation — Kastrinos encouraged anyone who had something to say to send him an email, or even sit down one-on-one for a discussion.

“I want to be able to hear from parents and then update the board as needed,” said Kastrinos. “Some people don’t want to meet so you give them a different vehicle — it could be ‘Hey, send me a letter or put your thoughts down and send them in.’ Other people would like to have a conversation with me, but they don’t want to do it in a venue with 100 other people.”

At the crux of the issue is funding — rural schools get more funding from the province if they meet certain enrolment thresholds, which Rochester is on the verge of falling below.

At the current full-time enrolment of 36 students — kindergarten students are counted at a .5 rate since they’re at school for half the day — Aspen View receives $523,520 in operational funding, and roughly $130,000 in maintenance funding, and spends $794,062, for a total deficit of $140,674 or $3,908 per student.  

If enrolment falls below the weighted moving average (WMA) of 35 — it’s currently at 39.4, according to board secretary-treasurer Amber Oko — the school’s operating funding would plummet to $263,014, nearly half of the current total.

“Where the risks come in are with our projected enrolment,” said Oko in response to a question about the WMA. “If the projected enrolment numbers were to come in low in the spring, that’s where we would have the risk (of losing funding.)”

The WMA is calculated on a three-year timeframe and is based on projected enrolment. AVPS receives 50 per cent of their per-student funding in the first year, 30 per cent in the second, and the final 20 per cent in the third. If the projected enrolment is off, the funding effects are felt in future years.

“This is why our projections are so important, and we try to make the projections as accurate as possible. If it gets inflated by accident or you over-project, you pay for it for a few years,” said Kastrinos.

The secondary issue for the division is building maintenance — Aspen View plans their repairs every three years, and Rochester School is going to receive $970,000 in work over the next three years, with $905,000 coming in 2025-2026 when the roof, windows, and doors will need to be replaced.

“It’s a factor for sure, we get limited funds. If we get $100,000 a year, that’s supposed to serve all our schools,” said Kastrinos. “For us to have to commit potentially $600,000 to a roofing project, that’s a vulnerability. We would be foolish to say that it won’t happen, the reality is that eventually it’s going to happen.”

If the board does vote to close the school — an event that Kastrinos stressed is an if and not a when — Aspen View is planning on working with parents to find a solution that works for each family. While schools in Dapp and Clyde are physically closer to some families, they fall in the Pembina Hills School Division.

“If there are 36 kids enrolled, we can talk to every single family and hear from them. If that’s the decision, we’ll talk to the families and ask what they would like to see,” said Kastrinos. “We have transportation, and we can leverage services to different places, but it would still be within Aspen View.”

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