Eggen travelled to southern Alberta Feb. 9-10. He was in Redcliff and Medicine Hat to meet with three school divisions in the area, and then spent the following day in Taber, Cardston and Fort Macleod to meet with three school divisions in the southwest corner.
The minister told the media the visits were part of a larger initiative to meet with school board officials across the province prior to the release of the 2017 budget, likely in March or April.
“Specifically I am also looking at some of the school nutrition projects,” he added.
The provincial government funded 33 pilot projects in Alberta, helping those schools chosen offer hot lunches to students.
On the agenda for Prairie Rose trustees were curriculum reviews, nutritional programs, the effects of the carbon tax and transportation challenges.
PRSD Board Chair Stuart Angle said transportation concerns are common amongst the boards in the province, but especially those rural areas such as Prairie Rose, where buses are travelling long distances to transport students to schools.
“We want to provide accurate information to him (the minister),” added Angle.
Predominantly rural in the southeast corner, Prairie Rose officials are concerned about distances students have to travel as well as sparse and low-density populations.
“It’s very important,” adds Angle, about being able to have a conversation with the Minister of Education.
“We’re appreciative of the effort he is making to go around the province to talk with everybody.”
When it comes to whether additional funding may be on the table for transportation — an area the PRSD board always struggles with and which has been in a deficit position the past few years — Angle said officials are “always hopeful.”
“I’m learning about that as we go around the province,” said Eggen, when asked by media about busing funding challenges, especially in the rural areas. “We want to ensure that the transportation budget is sufficient ... I want to make sure we have an updated transportation system, and that it’s properly funded and meeting the needs of kids.”
Eggen was also asked about the status of negotiations with Alberta teachers, which for the first time is being done at a provincial level in regards to wages.
“Both sides are bargaining in good faith. I think the process has exceeded our expectations,” he said. “Teachers are concerned first and foremost for the kids ... I don’t think we’ve had a better relationship in the province with the teachers than right now.”
The provincial government is facing challenges with the budget, due to the economic downturn. The ministry of education is the second largest portion of the provincial budget, but Eggen said the NDP government is committed to funding for enrolment growth in the province.
“I am hearing that we need to make sure we fund our schools properly ... Families expect the best for their students and children.”
After a tour of the school, Eggen sat down with PRSD trustees in a private meeting. The students were pleased to be able to host the Minister for the morning. Maren Cochrane, in Grade 3, who took Eggen on his tour said she enjoyed it.
“It’s what I do,” she said matter of fact.
Being a tour guide for Isabel F. Cox School is in fact her job. Students at the school apply for various positions at the beginning of the school year, gaining valuable real-world skills they will take with them when they continue their education or careers. Other times Cochrane along with other student tour guides may offer tours, is during parent teacher interviews or when people visit the school.
“It’s really fun. I like it,” she adds. “I love being a tour guide.”