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Trustees won't give up Willie Mac
Yellowknife Education District No. 1 not interested in school transfer, says chair

Candace Thomson
Northern News Services
Published Friday, February 14, 2014

Trustees of Yellowknife's Education District No. 1 agreed Tuesday evening that they are not interested in giving up William McDonald School to the territorial government.

"To transfer a school is not an item we're interested in," said John Stephenson, chair of Yellowknife Education District No. 1.

In December, Yellowknifer learned the GNWT offered William McDonald, currently owned and operated by Yellowknife Education No. 1, to the Commission scolaire francophone des Territories du Nord-Ouest, which operates Ecole Allain St-Cyr in Yellowknife and Ecole Boreale in Hay River.

The matter was kept mum by the GNWT, who asked the school board not to talk about it publicly.

William McDonald currently stands at 31 per cent student capacity - by far the lowest out of any Yk1 school.

"I actually felt relieved when it became a news item because then there was a press release from the GNWT, which then opened the door for us to have a conversation with our constituents and our staff to let them know what we were facing," Stephenson said.

Students at Ecole Allain St-Cyr lack certain amenities such as a gymnasium and a cafeteria, which the GNWT has been ordered to provide by an NWT Supreme Court ruling to expand the Yellowknife French school, as well as the one in Hay River. The GNWT is appealing the decision, which is expected to cost the government $28 million to be in compliance.

During the board meeting Tuesday, trustees approved the motion to consult with residents and find out what they would like the board to do.

Each of the trustees had comments before the motion was approved unanimously.

"Although we are elected as a body to represent (Yk1 supporters), there are some issues with which we should go out to get a better understanding of what they want, their approval and/or concerns," said trustee Terry Brookes. "I would like to emphasize it's not a Yk1 problem. We've been drawn into this because of certain circumstances."

"I felt that whether we say no (to the transfer), or whether we'd say yes, both of those choices have consequences to our stakeholders and that when we engage with them, that those consequences are well-defined and well-communicated," said Trustee Mira Hall.

Trustee Allan Shortt gave his opinion of a school transfer flat out, as Stephenson did.

"Personally I don't believe that transferring a school to the GNWT is a good idea, but I want to hear what our stakeholders and staff and students have to say," he said. "We have to look at our school configurations, the utilization of our schools, and see how much of an effect the shrinking budget has to help our stakeholders help us make an educated decision on what they want."

Perhaps most passionate of all was trustee Jay Butler.

"It's a little hard for me to talk about this without being a little bit angry," he said grimly. "I do feel that we're being singled out (as a board) a bit more than is perhaps warranted. But given that that is our situation we have to find out what our stakeholders think we should do - this is a big, big deal and we owe it to them."

With the motion carried, the trustees are forming an ad-hoc committee which will organize consultations. The board hopes to have this completed before the June board meeting.

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