| Jul 09, 2009

Back to HomeEditorial - July 9, 2009 Devilish Details: Keeping Land O' Lakes P.S. open could cost the Limestone Board millionsEditorial by Jeff Green

Last week, after interviewing Ruth Bailey, the Limestone School Board facilitator of the three accommodation review processes that are underway right now, the News reported that the province would not balk at building a new school to accommodate only the students currently attending schools in Sharbot Lake and about a third of the students attending school in Parham.

While that was true, there is an expensive wrinkle to the funding. The province will pay less towards a new school if it is being built for a lower number of students, and any shortfalls must be taken up by the local school board and any other partners it can find.

Those shortfalls were spelled out in a report that Bailey released earlier this week, and they will certainly play into the thinking of senior board staff when they present their own report, along with the final report of the PARC, to the board of trustees later this fall.

When the province announced they were committing $12.88 million to build a new school, that commitment averages out to a little over $18,000 for each of the 696 students who are enrolled in all of the schools that make up the family of schools.

Bailey explained that the way the funding actually works is, the province will multiply that $18,000 by the number of students who are projected to use the new school. So, for example, if as the PARC recommends, Land O' Lakes Public School (LOLPS) in Mountain Grove remains open, $18,000 will be deducted from the construction grant for every student that goes to school there.

Suddenly, the size of the provincial commitment starts to drop.

The upshot is that under the option that is included in the PARC draft report, keeping LOLPS open, the new school, housing about 400 students, is estimated to cost $10.89 million to construct, and the province will pay only $7.5 million. Even when the sale of abandoned properties is factored in, that leaves a shortfall of $2.9 million.

The alternative scenario that had been proposed, closing LOLPS as well, would still lead to a shortfall. The estimated cost of a new, larger school for 550 students is $13.4 million, and the grant from the province would be $10.7 million. After the sale of properties is factored in, the shortfall is almost $2.1 million.

That shortfall difference of $800,000 is large, but for a board with an overall budget in the hundreds of millions, it is not necessarily a deal breaker.

The news gets worse for LOLPS, however. For the board, the cost of maintaining Land O' Lakes must be factored in. While staffing and transportation costs are almost the same whichever way the board decides to go, the difference between maintaining a new school for 550 students and a school for 400 students would be minimal, but the cost of maintaining Land O' Lakes would much higher, as much as $3.5 million over the next 10 years.

While some of these figures fit into the category of “funny numbers” because they include projected costs of upgrades that may never take place, the following two realities will certainly be considered by board staff and eventually the board of trustees:

1) It will cost the Limestone Board more to build a smaller school, and 2) it will cost the Limestone Board more to keep Land O' Lakes open than it will cost to close it down and house the students in a new school.

The difference will be in the millions.

This will put the trustees into a bit of a spot.

After setting up a public process and dragging busy volunteers out to meetings for six months, the school board cannot toss their decision aside easily. However, they have the responsibility for every dollar spent by the board, now and in the uncertain future.

Added to all of this is the lingering public perception that the PARC has been a smokescreen - that forced consolidation had already been decided upon.

This perception will certainly hold sway should a decision to close Land O' Lakes Public School be made by the school board after the PARC recommends it stay open.

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