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    MLA report January 24

    Hello Chestermere! Some of you have children attending Peace Of Peace School, a faith based K-9 school operated by Rocky View Schools. Unfortunately the school and the land it sits on is owned by a third party and the lease is expiring. Rocky View Schools staff and Trustees have been working hard trying to negotiate a new lease for Prince of Peace and has also offered to purchase the school. So far they have not been successful but negotiations are continuing. Rocky View Schools has approached the Minister of Education twice and asked him to support buying the school which would cost much less than the approximately $20 million+ for a new build. I have spoken personally to the Minister and asked him to support a purchase. So far the Minister has refused. If the school is forced to close, the majority of the 147 Rocky View kids would have to be placed in Chestermere K-9 schools. Anyone with kids in Chestermere’s K-9 schools knows how full they are. They are currently operating at 91% capacity. Remember, at 85% capacity a K-9 school is essentially full. Anything above that and kids start losing libraries, lab rooms, etc. as they are converted to class space. Our kids deserve better. Not only did we get no new school builds in the last budget despite the critical need, the Minister seems indifferent to the prospect of losing an existing K-9 school, Prince Of Peace. I have sent the following letter to the Minister Of Education making the case again for a purchase. Keeping Prince Of Peace open is the right thing to do and a good deal for Alberta. Here’s hoping he listens.

    January 20, 2019

    Hon. David Eggen

    Minister Of Education

    Minister Eggen:

    RE: Prince Of Peace Lutheran School 

    I trust you enjoyed the Christmas season with your family. As you are aware, since 2006 Prince Of Peace School (“PoP”) in Rocky View County has operated as a K-9 “program of choice” faith based school under the jurisdiction of Rocky View Schools (“RVS”). The school is highly popular with students, parents, and staff. PoP currently has an enrollment of 469 students, 147 of whom are residents of Rocky View County and thus under RVS jurisdiction and 322 of whom are from Calgary and would ordinarily attend schools operated by CBE or CCSD.

    Formerly owned by the Lutheran Church, the buildings and land are now owned by Sage Properties Inc. (“Sage”), a Calgary corporation which administers the PoP property on behalf of shareholders with a claim following the bankruptcy of certain investment vehicles set up by the Lutheran Church. RVS leases PoP from Sage and the current lease is set to expire on August 31, 2019. RVS and Sage have been negotiating a lease extension for some time now and these negotiations are continuing. Should RVS be unable to reach a satisfactory agreement with Sage then RVS would have no option but to close PoP. Should this happen the 147 RVS students would have to be placed in other RVS schools and the 322 Calgary students would become the responsibility of their various Calgary boards.

    As you are also aware RVS has made 2 offers to purchase PoP from Sage using internal resources which were not accepted and has approached your Ministry on two occasions asking you to consider purchasing PoP which you have declined. I believe that it is in the interests of all parties to revisit this issue for the following reasons:

    •Capacity and Quality Of Learning Issues. Currently, K-9 schools in Chestermere are operating at ~91% of capacity. As you know, at 85% capacity a K-9 school is essentially “full” and increased enrollment beyond this inevitably results in a reduction of the quality of the learning environment due to increased class sizes, repurposing of resource space, etc. No new school builds in the Chestermere area have been announced and the situation is rapidly approaching a critical stage. Placing another 147 students in existing RVS schools will exacerbate the problem. You have made many public policy statements on the desirability of reduced class sizes, particularly in early grades. Increasing class sizes in existing schools to accommodate the PoP students would be in direct contradiction to your Ministry’s stated objectives. I am sure that the Calgary boards are facing similar challenges with class sizes. I noted your public statement on this particular issue: “Our government is committed to ensuring that every student receives a high-quality education that enriches their life and prepares them for success. I encourage Rocky View Schools to continue working collaboratively with the local municipality and Education staff in developing the jurisdiction’s three-year capital plan and identifying a site that is ready for a future school project in Chestermere,” as was reported to parents by RVS. I would submit that purchasing PoP is entirely in keeping with your stated commitment.

    •Value For Money. I am informed by RVS that the cost to replace PoP as a “new build” would be in excess of $20MM and of course would take at least 3 years from site readiness. Added to that would be the cost of buying new portables which would almost certainly be required in the event PoP closes. As few as 4 new portables would require an additional investment of approximately $1MM. While RVS has quite properly not made public exact dollar figures during negotiations, since PoP is a distressed asset I am confident that it could be purchased for considerably less than the cost of a new school. I am aware that PoP requires on the order of $4MM in capital to rectify some building issues and that Sage has not as yet severed the land and building from the rest of the property which will require subdivision and redesignation approvals from the municipal authority. However, this should not prevent some type of option agreement which could accompany a new lease on the building until these issues are resolved and RVS and Ministry staff are quite capable of structuring an agreement that protects the public interest. Purchasing PoP could thus be a very good deal for Alberta.

    In summary, RVS and Sage are negotiating in good faith on options to keep PoP open. I have heard a good deal of praise from parents for the efforts of the RVS Board to come to a satisfactory agreement with Sage. These negotiations are continuing but time is running short. RVS has thus been engaging in the required public consultations associated with school closure. Not only is this mandated by regulations it is only fair to the students, parents, and staff to provide them with some certainty well in advance of the start of the 2019-2020 school year. Thus the RVS Board is looking to make a decision at their next scheduled meeting on Feb. 7, 2019. This is a somewhat unique situation in that they are faced with the possibility of closing a popular, well utilized, and highly effective school as a result of circumstances beyond RVS’ control. I am somewhat at a loss to understand why you have rejected an option with a positive cost-benefit vis-à-vis a new build. Backstopping RVS’ efforts to resolve this situation by supporting a purchase of the school could make all the difference in seeing the continuation of this school which I submit is in the best interests of all stakeholders. This is not a political issue. Please contact me at your convenience if I may be of assistance.

    Sincerely,

    Leela Sharon Aheer, MLA, Chestermere – Rocky View

    Cc:

    Todd Brand, Board Chair, Rocky View Schools

    Patricia Sproule, Trustee

    Shali Baziuk, Trustee

    When I attended the public information session held January 16, the Trustees and staff were full of praise to the parents and students for their advocacy. Many of you have written to Minister Eggen. Please keep up the pressure. Your voice matters.

    As always I love to hear from you.