Board of Education Chair Susan Wilson thanks the community for their input into the school closure process at the opening of Tuesday's public meeting of the board – a meeting which ended in a vote to close Discovery Passage Elementary after the current school year.

Discovery Passage Elementary to close

Board claims chronic underfunding of public school system to blame and leaves no other options

After much discussion, thorough review of community input and expressions of despair and disgust with the provincial government’s funding of public education, the Board of Education of School District 72 has voted to close Discovery Passage Elementary, effective the end of this school year.

While the vote to close the school after the current school year was unanimous, every trustee around the table expressed their deep remorse at having no viable alternatives, due to the lack of funding from the government, demographic information that suggests an enrolment continuing to decline in the area and aging infrastructure within the district they will have trouble acquiring funding to fix should their excess capacity issues not be alleviated.

“Our board has repeatedly alerted the provincial government that the unexpected downloading of costs and annual removal of money from our budgets has resulted in our buildings being millions of dollars in repairs to make them safe, our school supply budgets have been reduced to minimal amounts, we’ve had programs eliminated, and made class sizes near the max,” Trustee Richard Franklin said.

“B.C. has the highest level of child poverty in Canada and is the second lowest province behind P.E.I. for education funding per pupil. Clearly, in my opinion, the government in Victoria has its priorities wrong.”

Franklin, like others on the board, spoke about their responsibility to the district as a whole. There are over 5,000 children registered in SD72 schools, and their responsibility is to provide them all with the best education they can. Part of doing that, he said, is allocating their limited resources in the most fiscally responsible way possible.

“We have limited funds, and we want to provide the best we can for the kids – all the kids – and in these days, with the amount of money we get from the government, we can’t afford to be inefficient.”

He added that he, like the parents of Discovery Passage, wishes the board had more time to work on these financial problems, but, “this year will probably be the most difficult budget cycle for planning that this board has ever experienced, and next year will probably be even worse. That’s why I reluctantly speak in favour of the motion (to close the school).”

Trustee John Kerr, along with other members of the board, echoed many of Franklin’s sentiments.

“Personally, I find myself in a conflict between my head and my heart,” Kerr said. “Between the realization that this school community loves their school and wants to keep it, and the reality that numbers don’t lie. Put simply, there are too few dollars in our system to allow us to keep this school open without shortchanging the education of children in other parts of our district.”

Kerr also thanked the community for their input, concerns for consideration and suggestions for alternatives the board have received over the 60-day consultation period, but there was, in his view, simply nothing that could be done that would have a great enough effect on the situation to remedy the desperate position the district has been put in by the government.

“I’ve been impressed with the wide variety of thoughtful suggestions on how to save this school, and the civil, respectful and courteous manner in which they have been offered,” Kerr said, “however, neither our senior management team, nor I personally, can see where any income generated by implementing any of these suggestions could come close to erasing this shortfall.”

After the vote to close the school, the board also voted in favour of the Ripple Rock Elementary School catchment area absorbing the Discovery Passage Catchment area, so all students in the Discovery Passage catchment area will now automatically fall within the extended Ripple Rock Elementary catchment area.

The deadline to apply for cross-catchment transfers has been extended to March 18 for any student currently enrolled in Discovery Passage Elementary, should they choose not to attend Ripple Rock.

The special meeting of the Board of Trustees to vote on the fate of Oyster River Elementary takes place tomorrow night (Wednesday, March 16) at 7:30 at the School District offices at 425 Pinecrest Road.