Yukon Education Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee says the Yukon’s planned new French high school will have enough space for 150 students. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News)

Parties spar over the size of French high school planned for Whitehorse

New school to have room for 150 students, earlier report called for space for 200

The education minister says she’s confident a French language high school with a capacity for 150 students from Grades 7 to 12 “will serve us for a long time to come.”

That’s despite a report from two years ago that called for the school to have a capacity of at least 200.

Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee fielded questions in the legislative assembly on why the government chose to build the $27.5-million high school and community centre for 150 students when a functional plan completed in 2016 recommends that the school have room for a minimum of 200.

“Wouldn’t that functional plan provide the government with the evidence that they needed to base their decision on?” asked Yukon Party MLA Scott Kent.

“That functional plan did set out and recommend that the school be large enough for 200 students.”

In an interview with the News, McPhee said the forecast for 150 students comes from a government consultant who calculates enrolment for all of the territory’s schools each year.

She said the consultant uses the current year’s enrolment and the average retention rate for each grade over the last four years to forecast enrolment into the future.

Ecole Emilie-Tremblay currently has 58 students from Grades 7 to 12. McPhee said the consultant has predicted the new high school will have 73 students when it opens in 2021. That grows to 86 by 2024.

The minister didn’t have data on when the new school is expected to reach capacity according to the government’s numbers.

“We’re confident that this joint decision with the CSFY (Commission scolaire francophone du Yukon) and the department and others” will “accommodate what’s appropriate to meet the needs of the students and to stay within our fiscal means.”

The Liberals’ new numbers are noticeably different than the government report that the opposition is relying on.

That functional plan was completed in 2016. It calls for the high school to house a minimum of 200 students and have the option to expand.

According to the plan, the new high school will reach 149 students in Grades 7-12 by 2021-22. That number grows to 172 students by 2024-25, it says.

Those numbers consider census data, the federal government’s goal of increasing francophone immigration by four per cent and the increasing enrolment at Ecole Emilie Tremblay, the report says.

Ecole Emilie Tremblay has 231 students from kindergarten to Grade 6, according to a Department of Education enrolment report from January 2018.

The French school board first sued the government in 2009 claiming the government was not meeting its requirements under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

At the time officials said students were leaving the French system for an English system in high school because of inadequate facilities.

When asked whether it was appropriate to use retention rates at a school some think is inadequate to predict future enrolment at a better facility, McPhee said the process used by the consultant “has been serving us well over a number of years.”

McPhee said the decision to go with a 150-student school was made based on projected enrolment numbers, the budget and the physical space, next to Riverdale’s F.H. Collins High School, where the new school will be going.

In a statement to the News, the Francophone school board said it was “very pleased” that the government had money in the budget this year for the school to proceed.

“This school will offer access to facilities that will allow us to offer programming that is equivalent to that found in other high schools in Whitehorse. The entire francophone community is looking forward to the construction of this badly needed secondary school and community centre.”

But even before shovels have gone into the ground, the statement notes that “even though the school being designed will have a capacity of 150 students, it will be possible in the future to contemplate an expansion when the school reaches its capacity.”

She acknowledged that the board is “keen to have the school as big as possible, but we also cannot have an empty school. We can’t have a school that has very few students in it and so this is a delicate balance, for sure.”

McPhee said she plans to table conceptual drawings for the new school in the legislative assembly on March 12.

Contact Ashley Joannou at ashley@yukon-news.com

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