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    Categories: Provincial News

School Notes

Four St. Albert and Morinville schools will have cheaper places for kids to play now that the province has announced a new grant for playgrounds.

Premier Rachel Notley announced a new $250,000 grant for new school playgrounds last Friday.

The $20 million program applies to all new schools with K-to-6 programs announced between 2014 and 2018. About 51 schools are eligible, including four in St. Albert and Morinville.

“Playgrounds are a way to build and strengthen communities,” Notley said, speaking at the Vista Heights School playground in Calgary, as they give kids a place to explore, develop skills and have fun, and parents a spot to build bonds with their neighbours.

St. Albert’s Joseph M. Demko School and Sister Alphonse Academy and Morinville’s St. Kateri Tekakwitha Academy and the yet-to-be-named Grandin Heights school all qualify for the grant.

Jonathan Konrad, the incoming principal of the Grandin Heights school, said he was surprised and excited by this grant, which could cover the entire cost of the school’s playground.

“It opens up doors for us to do some of the other things we wanted to do in the school,” he said, such as custom safety mats and a video wall.

It often takes years of effort by parents and staff to raise cash to build a playground, said Sturgeon School Division superintendent MichÈle Dick. This grant will help ensure that the new Grandin Heights school will have a playground in place from day one.

This grant will be a huge help for the Joseph Demko playground, which will likely cost more than $250,000 due to the size of the school, said St. Albert Public treasurer Michael Brenneis.

Greater St. Albert Catholic board chair Serena Shaw said in an email that she was pleased the grant would support her board’s two new schools.

“It’s wonderful to know that we will have upfront dollars to plan the playground for new families attending the school and to incorporate the best designs.”

New regulations mean that St. Albert Public will need Alberta Education’s approval before it can implement its proposed hikes to some bus fees.

Education Minister David Eggen announced new regulations related to Bill 1 Monday at the Alberta School Boards Association conference in Red Deer. That bill, which is now in force, bans boards from charging fees for instructional supplies or to bus students that live more than 2.4 km from their designated school.

The new regulations say that any new fees or fee hikes of more than five per cent require ministerial approval before implementation.

It also requires boards to publish their fee schedules online, and to specify how parents can apply for waivers or refunds. The minister can also impose “whatever penalty or sanction” he considers appropriate if a board tries to implement a new fee or big fee increase without approval.

The St. Albert Public board voted to raise bus fees for some students by $100 or $160 this fall. As these amount to 32 and 47 per cent increases, respectively, they will require ministerial approval under the new regulations.

While these changes would need ministerial approval, board superintendent Barry Wowk said he expected to receive that approval based on conversations with Alberta Education staffers. The board would have to reduce bus service if these changes are rejected.

Wowk said he was thrilled to hear Eggen say he might re-examine the 2.4 kilometre “walk limit,” which states that the province will only pay to bus students if they live 2.5 km or more from school.

“The board doesn’t believe 2.5 is an appropriate distance to use,” he said, and considers that too far for kids to walk in a busy urban environment.

The regulations also say that the province will cover busing for special-needs kids and kindergarten students travelling home over the noon hour. Wowk said he was still figuring out which, if any, of the board’s fees this would affect.

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