THEY SAID IT: “Under the School Act definition, Oyster River Elementary is within a rural area. However, there is no provision under the School Act that schools within rural areas cannot be closed. Boards of Education are required to ensure delivery of educational programming, which would be accomplished even if the students were moved to Ocean Grove Elementary.” -SD72
School District 72 (SD72) is attempting to address questions and concerns being raised about the possible imminent closure of two elementary schools in the district and has released what they are calling “the first in a series of fact sheets” to do just that.
The document, released this week, addresses the overarching themes that were raised by concerned parents and members of the community at the first public consultation meeting and written responses received by the board so far in regards to Oyster River Elementary.
“There will be more questions addressed/answered in future fact sheets,” says communications and community engagement officer for SD72 Jennifer Patrick, but rather than waiting until they had all the answers people are looking for, they thought it better to get what answers they have out to the public as they have them.
The concerns and questions addressed by district senior staff in “Fact Sheet 1” range from the time busses will take to get students to Ocean Grove should Oyster River close down, to why the district hasn’t considered other facilities for closure – such as Robron Centre or the School Board Offices on Pinecrest – to whether the teachers from Oyster River Elementary would move along with the students in the event of a school closure.
The question of whether Oyster River should be considered a “rural school” is also addressed again in the document.
“School District 72 has always, and for the purposes of the 2015-2025 Facility Plan, identified our rural or outlying schools to be those without Campbell River mailing addresses, namely Sayward, Cortes, Quadra and Surge Narrows,” the document reads. “Schools are categorized also in consideration of the proximity to another school and difficulty of providing services. With respect to Oyster River Elementary there is another school within 11 km – compared to Sayward where the next nearest school is 80 km or the island schools that have the added ferry requirement.”
There is also, according to the fact sheet, a misconception that rural schools cannot be closed under the legislation of the Schools Act.
“Under the School Act’s definition, Oyster River Elementary is within a rural area,” the document admits. “However, there is no provision under the School Act that schools within rural areas cannot be closed. Boards of Education are required to ensure delivery of educational programming, which would be accomplished even if the students were moved to Ocean Grove Elementary.”
The question of why the sell-off of unused property held by the district isn’t the first thing being done to see how much money that could add to future budgets also came up numerous times by opponents to the possible closure.
“Unfortunately, property sales of this scale are not necessarily quick sales and some may be subject to restrictions by either local government or the Crown,” the document says in answer to that question. “Property sales also serve as a one-time gain, meaning that the school district would only receive a lump sum payment once. School districts are also required to sell buildings within fair market value and market valuations on buildings such as Evergreen is often less than many would estimate.”
The district also says the sell-off of properties like Evergreen wouldn’t do anything to remedy their excess capacity situation, as closed facilities aren’t included in those calculations by the Ministry of Education.
The entire document can be found under “School Closures Consultations” in the “Quick Links” section on the district’s website (sd72.bc.ca).