EDMONTON — It’s the outcome parents in a hamlet west of Red Deer were fighting to prevent: the community’s only school is being closed.
On Wednesday Chinook’s Edge School Division No. 73 decided to shut down Benalto School after enrolment fell to just 21 students, which the board said was not financially sustainable.
The Kindergarten to Grade 6 school had been involved in a viability and closure review process because of the low numbers.
READ MORE: Central Alberta hamlet facing the prospect of losing its only school
Junior and senior high school students from the community are already bused 15 kilometres east to Sylvan Lake, but parents worried what the impact might be on their younger kids.
Earlier this year the local parent council launched a social media campaign in hopes of attracting more students from surrounding communities. They felt if they could just attract 10 more families, the school would be able to stay open.
The tiny community is home to 117 residents, according to Red Deer County.
Benalto School has been the heart of the hamlet since 1938, but residents fear losing the school would be the final stake in the coffin.
“So many people were concerned that if the school was to close, their property value would decrease and they’re not sure what would keep them here,” resident Angie Schickerowski told Global News last month. She has two children attending Benalto School and a third just a couple of years away.
READ MORE: Enrolment on the decline in rural Alberta schools
In its decision, Chinook’s Edge did acknowledge the high level of quality teaching and learning at Benalto, but said the challenges of low enrolment affects students and staff on a daily basis.
Even if the school were to remain open, the school district said it would have had to cut resources. There are two teachers and an educational assistant at Benalto School, leaving the cost per student to run the school about double the average of other schools in the district. There was fear that cutting back to one teacher would harm educational outcomes.
The board voted Thursday night to “begin a process of establishing strategies and timelines to support Benalto School families and staff in finalizing next steps and transitions.”
— With files from Tom Vernon, Global News