Provincial rules make addressing school capacity a challenge: Mayor

As the school year comes to an end, Fort Erie councillors spent a portion of Monday’s meeting discussing the challenges as local schools face capacity issues.

Responding to a request by Councillor Ann-Marie Noyes at an earlier meeting, staff provided councillors with the latest numbers from the public and Catholic school boards in Niagara. The numbers show several schools, especially with the public board, in Fort Erie at or over capacity. And projections show no relief in the coming years.

“I think it just reinforces my concern,” Noyes said.

With development projects coming at them at breakneck speed, Noyes said she’s concerned that local schools are only going to be stretched thinner.

“It’s the students who are going to suffer.”

The discussion arose during previous talks regarding some developments. Noyes expressed concern that the Niagara school boards offered no objections despite apparent capacity issues.

However, Chief Administrative Officer Chris MacQueen and Mayor Wayne Redekop said the school boards are largely at the mercy of the Ministry of Education.

“The reality is that the Ministry of Education has a heavy hand in terms of how much a school board can build,” Redekop said, adding when Greater Fort Erie Secondary School (GFESS) was built they were unable to account for the potential of students switching from Lakeshore Catholic to the new school.

As such, the school was over capacity as soon as it opened.

“They’re against some strict rules with the ministry,” added McQueen.

Redekop said GFESS was built with expansion plans in place, but the school boards need to show an ongoing capacity need over a span of a few years before they can go to the ministry to seek funding.

McQueen added that town staff have been in discussion with the public board about enrolment numbers in elementary schools.

“There is some plan for the DSBN to look at a new school to be built in Fort Erie based on that growing demand,” he said.

Councillor Tom Lewis suggested they might want to consider inviting the local trustees or school board officials to a council meeting so they can ask questions and better understand the school boards’ plans.

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