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OPINION: Additional infrastructure only solution

Stratford Coun. Steve Ogden has announced his intention to run for mayor of the town.
Stratford Coun. Steve Ogden has announced his intention to run for mayor of the town. - Dave Stewart

A Grade 7 to 12 school in Stratford effective solution to alleviate overcrowding in Charlottetown schools

BY STEVE OGDEN

GUEST OPINION

Every morning, more than 1,000 Stratford students are bused across the Hillsborough Bridge to attend Birchwood Intermediate and Charlottetown Rural High schools in Charlottetown; every afternoon they’re bused back home again. For the 10,000 residents of Stratford, this is unacceptable. 

The August 29, 2018 report, “Charlottetown Family of Schools Study Report 2017/2018,” shows that enrolment data for the schools to which our children are bused is projected to exceed the schools’ functional capacities in the near term. A Grade 7 to 12 school in Stratford would be an effective solution to alleviate the overcrowding situation in Charlottetown schools, and is the only option acceptable to Stratford residents. 

Stratford’s growing population of over 10,000 residents, warrants having access to schools within the community. One resident at the August 29th public consultation meeting, questioned whether there are any other municipalities of 10,000 residents that do not have schools in their community to serve the families living there. Being the fastest growing community in the Maritimes, our school-age population will only continue to grow, and with it the need for adequate educational facilities now and into the future. 

At a Stratford public meeting on August 22nd, a former PSB Board Director noted that the 2016-2017school review had concluded that the only solution for Stratford was additional infrastructure – that it was obvious there was no other reasonable solution, but that at that time the Board was unable to make any recommendations for new schools. We are now at a point where new school construction is an option. Given that the need for school infrastructure in Stratford is at least as great (or even greater) as it was at the time of the previous school review, the answer is obvious – use this opportunity to do the right thing and add the needed school infrastructure in Stratford. 

Options other than building school infrastructure in the community where it is needed are not acceptable to our residents. It is bad enough that our children are required to travel to schools outside their community, but perpetuating the situation by funding additions to aging and already unacceptably large facilities in Charlottetown to respond to our own growing student population would be a misuse of our residents’ tax dollars. Stratford deserves to have provincial funding directed toward its needs – the need for our children to have access to an education where they live. 

The time has come for Stratford to stop having to ship its children elsewhere to receive an education. Our students deserve to receive a quality education within a school population of an acceptable size, in a facility close to home where they do not face barriers of distance preventing many from participating in before- and after-school activities. Our children face much greater competition with large numbers of students vying for spots in the same programs (school teams, band programs, etc.). Attending school in one’s home community allows students to have more educational and recreational time instead of spending that time on busses, and helps parents feel part of the children’s school community, facilitating participation in their child’s education. 

An informed decision that I believe would fully support the option to build school infrastructure in Stratford should be based on a professional, comprehensive analysis of the cost-benefit of proceeding in this direction. Factors in this analysis should include (but not be limited to) tangible and intangible impacts such as: transportation, environment, available funding, carbon offsetting, bridge and highway infrastructure, traffic, school renovations and health, safety and quality of life.

This school review provides an opportunity to invest wisely in the future. Just as in the 1960s and 70s when the educational system was modernized and new school infrastructure was added to respond to the educational needs of the time, the Public Schools Branch has the opportunity to respond to the changing demographics and educational needs of our town. I urge the board to recommend that a new Grade 7 to 12 school be built in Stratford. 

- Steve Ogden, Stratford councillor, Ward 2, and mayoral candidate, recently made this submission to the board of directors, Public Schools Branch 

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