Stratford has a growing problem that is the envy of Prince Edward Island. The fastest-growing community in the province is also a victim of its own success, resulting in increased pressure on its two schools. Glen Stewart Primary and Stratford Elementary are bursting at the seams.
A new elementary school was opened in 2010 to ease pressure on Glen Stewart. Since then, some Stratford students had to be bused to Donagh to relieve increasing student numbers. And more children keep enrolling.
So it’s no surprise that parents are demanding better, longer-term planning. A conundrum faces the Public Schools Branch and government. There are spaces available in nearby Donagh and Charlottetown schools so does it make sense to construct more facilities in Stratford?
Many parents think so and the PSB is busy trying to juggle priorities and budgets. The compromise is building 14 more classrooms at Stratford Elementary, which should be ready next year. It’s not the perfect solution but under the circumstances, it’s the best option for now.
To plan and construct a new school would take considerably more time than adding 14 classrooms to an existing facility. Parents are critical about the lack of long-term solutions and there is some justification involved. But officials don’t have crystal balls that can predict the steady numbers of new families moving to Stratford. It’s one thing to project student numbers based on families living in town, but it’s quite another to forecast the continued popularity of the town as a home for young rural families.
Another argument suggests that if a proper rezoning plan had been approved last spring by the PSB, the overcrowding issue in Stratford would have eased or been solved by now.
A former principal has remarked that a number of neighbourhoods in Stratford are largely populated by young families who have moved in from Souris and area - as a lost generation in Eastern Kings has found its way to Stratford. A similar scenario has affected other communities, especially in Kings County.
There are legitimate criticisms about government’s slow response to the growing student overpopulation in Stratford. The province knew last year that student enrollment in the town needed immediate attention. Why wasn’t this detailed in the five-year capital budget last fall so work could have started earlier?
Instead, the province seems to have scrambled to cobble together a Band-Aid education budget just for classroom construction at the two Stratford schools and at L.M. Montgomery in the East Royalty neighbourhood. The costs are significant - $6.6-million for Stratford and a $5.3-million for a 10-classroom expansion at L.M. Montgomery.
The plan does give everyone some breathing room. Yes, it was thrown together very quickly but the need for classrooms was great and further delays would have worsened the problem.
Stratford parents meet Monday where school plans will be discussed. Right now, the priorities are obvious - plan and build the best possible classroom spaces for Stratford; and set in motion a mechanism for longer-term solutions.