‘Which of our children are we going to abandon?’

Trustees vote in favour of closing two elementary schools

Which two elementary schools in School District 72 will shut their doors at the end of this school year?

That’s the question the Board of Trustees will now be tasked with answering after accepting all the recommendations of their 10-year Facility Plan at this week’s public meeting – after amending a few of them (PDF) based on public feedback.

The Facility Plan (PDF) was presented to the board at the Nov. 17 meeting, and contained seven recommendations, implemented in three phases.

Phase one, to be completed by the end of June 2016, involves the closing of two elementary schools within the greater Campbell River area to address the issue of excess unutilized space.

The board accepted this recommendation unanimously.

“I’ve been here in SD72 for a long time,” said Trustee Richard Franklin during the comment period on the recommendation, pointing out that Campbell River is simply not the same place it has been through the years, and the district needs to respond appropriately to that reality.

“I came here in 1978 as a school teacher, and in those days there were well over 8,500 students. Now we’re at a place where we have just over 5,000 students. That’s a huge drop. The town has changed. The Mill is closed. Mines have closed. The fishing industry is not what it was. We have a different economy and different family structures, and, unfortunately, we just don’t have as many kids as we did.

“No board ever relishes the idea of closing a school,” he continued. “On the other hand, we have a responsibility to the taxpayers to run those schools in the best way possible. It’s very unfortunate that it comes to this, but in looking at look at the numbers, in terms of empty classrooms … unfortunately, it’s necessary.”

Trustee Daryl Hagen agreed with Franklin, pointing out that through his 25 years on the school board, he “never thought he’d be in favour of closing schools,” but in this circumstance, with many of the district’s buildings in the physical condition they’re in, closures are necessary, “so that people don’t look back in five years and ask, ‘why didn’t they do something done back then?’ We have to do what is right, and I think this is right.”

Trustee John Kerr then added that the empty space in many schools – 69 of the district’s 175 elementary school classrooms are “surplus” – simply take too many of the district’s finite financial resources to maintain. Those resources should, he argued, be going to improving the learning outcome for students, not for maintenance of empty space.

“We get a limited envelope of money,” Kerr said. “What we’ve seen is a lot of our resources are going to maintaining capacity that’s far in excess of what we need. We need to look at where do we get the largest bang for our buck in terms of supporting learning for our children all across the spectrum.”

Trustee Joyce McMann summed up the board’s position before the vote.

“In the seven years I’ve been on the board, there has been no adjustment to our facilities maintenance money,” she said. “Our schools are getting older and we’re having to spread that money thinner and thinner so that many our schools are now in a deteriorating state. I really feel that we’re in a position of figuring out which of our children we’re going to abandon, but I think it’s come to that.”

After voting in favour of the recommendation, the board directed district staff to come back to the board with a recommendation on which two schools should be considered for closure and the rationale behind those recommendations. That report will be delivered and discussed at the Jan. 12 public meeting.

Once schools are identified for closure there will be a school closure process as required by the Ministry of Education under the School Act and in accordance with the school district’s existing permanent or temporary school closure policy (E-03), which can be found on the district website (PDF). This process would include its own series of meeting with potentially affected school communities and stakeholders.

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