Overwhelming support at SARM Convention for local RM’s resolution

Photo by Tyler Hazelwood RM of Prince Albert Reeve Eric Schmalz addresses the SARM Convention on Wednesday, March 15.

A resolution to improve connectivity for rural schools received overwhelming support at the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities annual convention in Saskatoon last week.

Representatives from the RM of Prince Albert introduced the motion, with support from the RM of Garden River, on Wednesday, March 16. It received 97 per cent support from the body of the convention. RM of Prince Albert Reeve Eric Schmalz, who introduced the resolution, was happy to receive such a high level of support.

“We knew that it would receive heavy support because of the broad appeal and the amount of people who would be affected or are affected currently by the low connectivity rates in rural communities and particularly in rural schools,” Schmalz said. “It was a good feeling. We were hoping for a high percentage. We knew we would get a high percentage, but I’m actually surprised it didn’t get 100 per cent because the issue is universal throughout the province.”

The idea for the resolution sprang from a meeting that the Saskatchewan Rivers School Division board of education hosted with municipalities in late November.

After Schmalz introduced the resolution, he was supported by Ryan Scragg, the Reeve of the RM of Garden River. Schmalz said that he tried to focus on what they could achieve during his pitch.

“I got up and spoke to this being a more achievable piece of the rural connectivity issue,” he explained. “This issue is simpler and easier to digest because a lot of these schools already have hard-wired Internet to the schools through fibreoptic.”

All school divisions use the same supplier for fibreoptics through the Ministry of Education, which helps make the goal achievable

“It’s not as if we are trying to bring high-speed Internet to every corner of the province,” Schmalz said. “We are trying to start with a small piece like the connectivity within rural schools. We feel it’s an achievable goal.

“This was the reason I believe we had such a high percentage of support at the SARM Convention for this resolution, because it is an achievable goal,” he added. “We, as well as other rural communities, feel this is achievable goal in the short term without having to stretch ourselves into trying to provide high-speed Internet service to every corner of the province.”

The resolution, which is available at the SARM website reads: “Whereas there currently exists a disparity with respect to internet connectivity between urban and rural schools in the province of Saskatchewan. Whereas there is a need to bridge the connectivity gap of broadband service provided to rural schools when compared to urban schools. It is crucial for rural students to have equitable access to technology and learning opportunities.

“Be it Resolved that SARM lobby the provincial government, including the Ministry of Education and all internet service providers in Saskatchewan, to jointly review and make recommendations on expanding broadband service to rural schools.”
Schmalz said they have reached out to local MLAs to discuss the issue and will continue to do so. Their goal is to ensure the children of rural communities have the best access to educational tools and information, so that they receive the best education available and can be successful in all future endeavors.

Schmalz said that he hopes the SARM can lobby on their behalf, but another important aspect was the common ground found between Saskatchewan Rivers and local municipalities.

“I was great to be able to have this discussion with our School Division and I would encourage other divisions to reach out to their municipalities both rural and urban and try to address some of these issues and identify issues because, essentially, they are working in silos a lot of times,” he said. “We have had a really good communication here. I think it yielded some good information and maybe what could be a good result, hopefully.”

These can be simple because there is common cause among stakeholders, according to Schmalz.

“Even just simple dialogue and a roundtable discussion, maybe one hour in an evening just with your school division or your local community organizations. These are things where we can find common ground,” he said.