The future of education in Rocky View Schools is in danger.
Rocky View surrounds Calgary on three sides and is the fastest growing area in Canada. In addition, Rocky View’s growth is attracting younger families more than anywhere else. The proposed cuts to Alberta’s deficit spending are, without doubt, a necessary action by the provincial government until we get our income more in line with our spending. However, the ‘rainy day fund’ was put in place for this kind of situation and in Rocky View School Division; it is ‘raining buckets.’
Two of the major costs of government in Alberta are health care and education. Everyone in Alberta appreciates that in an emergency, health care funding is first in this province. Education also has an emergency. It may be considered a ‘motherhood’ statement to talk about the importance of education for Alberta’s children; but some platitudes are platitudes worth repeating. Alberta has a country-wide reputation for the most educated population in Canada. Do we not want to continue that goal?
As a ratepayer in the County of Rocky View and participant in government, I see many statistics crossing my office desk. What has come to my attention is the compelling need for more schools in the whole district. However, there are two particular ‘hot spots’ that need immediate attention – Airdrie and Chestermere. Population within the area served by Rocky View Schools grew by 25 per cent during the period 2001 to 2006. Compare that to Canada, which grew by five per cent and Alberta by 10 per cent. Within Alberta, only communities bordering close to Calgary have sustained growth in excess of 15 per cent, per census period since 1991.
The Calgary metropolitan area population, which includes the Rocky View School Division, is experiencing extreme growth pressure as a result of the economy created by the energy sector. Even though the Rocky View School Division represents only eight per cent of the Calgary metropolitan area’s population, about 18 per cent of the growth in schools happens within Rocky View. Those existing schools do not have the spaces for long term growth. Rocky View is projected to have a future school age population of 22 per cent, a growth rate greater than Calgary at 17 per cent, or the province at 18 per cent.
To name only a few areas within Rocky View school division that will at least double in population over a decade: Airdrie is projected to grow from 38,000 to 70,000; Chestermere, 12,600, will at least double.
Some of the reasons for such alarming pressure on the Rocky View School Division are due to Albertans’ search for affordable housing, rural community lifestyle and less congestion and traffic. Every town within reasonable commuting distance to Calgary as a centre for work is affected by this explosive growth.
A decade ago, Calgary was the fastest growing city in Canada, but its population growth can be likened to throwing a rock into a pond – the circles ever widen until Chestermere is now the fastest growing town in Canada and Airdrie is now the fastest growing city.
When hospitals receive emergency patients who are bleeding or choking or experiencing heart attacks or strokes, they enact a triage method to serve those in gravest danger first. Alberta Education has conducted a triage on Alberta’s schools and Rocky View School Division (particularly Airdrie and Chestermere) have been put at the head of the list as the most needy.
While it may be unfair to compare such medical emergencies to future Rocky View education requirements around Calgary, I believe that the Alberta government must act for the inevitable extreme needs of more schools, more teachers, and a great deal more money to flow quickly in the Rocky View school division. Using the five-year plan developed by the Board and Management of the division, Airdrie alone, needs five new schools to open this fall. Now, we all know that is impossible to accomplish in three months. But, a look into the future reveals Rocky View Division is the crisis area of Alberta. It takes three-to-four years from initial planning to the opening of a new school. We can start now with small amounts of money needed for planning and begin construction next year.
It is not an exaggeration to state the province’s future lifestyle will be sustained and improved only by our highly educated youth. Ignoring the facts is courting a huge disaster.
Using the previous analogy of bleeding and choking, if we start Monday, it will be four years before the patients are safe. Sort of like the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, we need to stop the bleeding and get the balance of infrastructure in place.
Bert Brown is Canada’s only elected senator. He is a graduate of the Rocky View School Division and father of a graduate.