Alberta school fears federal funding shortfall will cause it to close its doors

A school in the heart of the Alberta Rockies may be forced to close due to a projected budget shortfall.

“It could happen as early as September 2020,” Canadian Rockies Public Schools superintendent Chris MacPhee told Global News on Monday.

Exshaw School is a kindergarten to Grade 8 school located in the hamlet of Exshaw near Canmore.

Home to almost 200 students — most of them Indigenous — the school has been funded by federal dollars since 1973. Under the current agreement, it educates Stoney Nakoda First Nation children outside of that community upon a parent’s request.

But now the federal government wants to direct the education funding through First Nations bands and their schools. That means CRPS will have to renegotiate a new deal with the Stoney Education Authority and the government.

MacPhee said after crunching the numbers, the school would be left with a $1.6 million shortfall.

“I don’t know if we could do the same with less,” he told Global News. “With $1.6 million, no. But can we work together to find out where there are some efficiencies? Absolutely.”

Isabella Goodstoney is an educational assistant at Exshaw School. She went to school there and so did her mother before her. She now wants to be able to choose where her eight-year-old daughter goes.

“Our choice is being taken away from us, so it upsets me,” Goodstoney said.

“Why should they decide when we want our children to have a better education, a future for themselves? It’s just disappointing.”

Goodstoney wants her daughter to continue going to Exshaw, and if she can’t, she said the family may be forced to move.

“I’ll probably look elsewhere or relocate because my focus is my daughter’s education,” Goodstoney said.

Global News reached out to Indigenous Services Canada who said the current funding agreement between the Canadian Rockies School Division and ISC remains in effect.

The ISC added: “The department worked with First Nation partners to improve the funding for education by adopting a new approach that provides band-operated schools on reserve with funding that is more comparable to funding in provincial education systems. The funding formula changes do not impact the payment of provincial tuition but are intended to enhance support for First Nations control of First Nations education.”

The ISC also denied the $1.6 million shortfall, and added that Exshaw students will continue to receive the same high-quality education with the only change being the administration of the money.

MacPhee is adamant the $1.6 million is accurate. He said the shortfall will leave the CRPS with no other choice but to shut down the school or repurpose it.

The CRPS has now heard from the ISC about a possible extension of the current agreement into the 2020-21 school year, but MacPhee said that would just be prolonging the uncertainty.

“We’re just putting the school, the staff as well as these families through the exact same flux and turmoil moving again into the future for another year,” he said.

MacPhee said the CRPS is eager to sit down with the ISC and the Stoney Education Authority to discuss the options, but he added that time is running out and the issue will go to the CRPS board in January.

Global News reached out to the Stoney Education Authority for comment but did not hear back.

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