Parents have more questions as trustees finalize school closures

There were only a few people in the gallery Tuesday evening as School District 27 trustees finalized school closures.

There were only a few people in the gallery Tuesday evening as School District 27 trustees finalized their decision to close schools in the district.

Despite impassioned pleas from several parents to keep Kwaleen and Glendale elementary schools open, the trustees finalized their decisions to close the schools by giving the school closing bylaws third and final reading.

Kwaleen, Glendale, 100 Mile Junior Secondary and Buffalo Creek schools will be closed at the end of this school year. Trustees decided last week that Wildwood Elementary would stay open, although it was also slated for closure in the Initial Options Report presented to the public last fall on ways to bring the district’s operating budget in line with Ministry of Education directives.

One parent urged the trustees to reconsider closing Glendale. Instead of keeping Wildwood Elementary open with its small number of students, she suggested bringing the Wildwood students and First Nations program to Glendale to bolster that school’s enrolment numbers.

She was also concerned about the board’s decision to separate the French Immersion and balanced calendar programs which now formed a community at Glendale elementary.

Given that both schools will be filled to capacity with students she was also concerned that there wouldn’t be room to grow the French Immersion program at its new location at Nesika Elementary, or to expand balanced calendar program in its new location at Cataline Elementary.

A Kwaleen parent lobbying to keep that school open, also expressed concern that Grade 7s still need a playground when they are moved up to high school and wanted assurances that counselling and support programs will follow students.

Trustees noted that while there were no guarantees on future planning issues, no one had been turned away from the French Immersion program to date.

Chair Will VanOsch said the whole purpose of closing and consolidating schools was to be able to use available funds to provide more resources for students but there are no guarantees.

Trustee Doug Neufeld noted the district would be working to address concerns of parents during the implementation process. He also noted that the board would need to deal with future facility needs regarding program expansion as they arise.

One parent also suggested that children in the same classes be moved together with their teacher into their new school in order to ease the transition for them.

Superintendent of Schools Mark Thiessen said the district couldn’t guarantee that would happen because there are provisions in the teacher contracts to consider during the implementation phase of closing and consolidating the schools.

He said the main thing is to make sure students and staff are well supported through the transition process.

VanOsch and several trustees noted that their decisions to close schools were not taken lightly and were made after considering a great deal of background research and input from the public through the public consultation process.

One parent also questioned the enrolment numbers used in the decision to close Kwaleen elementary. She noted Kwaleen enrolment was not the same as reported by the secretary-treasurer.  Secretary-Treasurer Bonnie Roller noted the numbers she compiled in the report were the projections for the 2013/14 school year and were adjusted to reflect enrolment once Grade 7s had been moved up to secondary school.

One parent also questioned whether the district had gone far enough in closing schools and cutting its operating costs for the Ministry of Education to allow the release of capital funds for needed school upgrades.

She said 100 Mile Elementary has been scheduled for replacement for many years and upgrading is needed at Peter Skene Ogden.

Roller said the school closures made by the district don’t quite meet the Ministry of Education utilization guidelines for releasing capital funds to replace schools.

However, she said the district has increased its utilization rate by leaps and bounds compared to what it was and hopes the changes will be enough, along with a sound business plan, to trigger the release of capital funding.

The district has $4 million in reserve capital funds from the sale of Anne Stevenson Junior Secondary School to Thompson Rivers University.