Alberni School Closure: Gill parents feel 'ambushed'

A regional district director says that since Gill Elementary School is the last rural school left in the Valley it shouldn’t be closed.

Alberni Clayoquot Regional District Beaver Creek Director John McNabb made his case before more than 100 parents assembled at Gill on Wednesday night.

Beaver Creek along with Sproat Lake are changing in a way that needs to be looked at with a vision to the future, McNabb said. “They are the fastest growing areas in the regional district,” ACRD Beaver Creek Director John McNabb said.

Trustees also need to consider the uniqueness of rural culture, McNabb said. “The needs of rural students are different,” McNabb said. “They need to be where other rural students are.”

Gill is on the chopping block yet there is no representation from the school on the steering committee that is overseeing the closure, parent Lindsay Higgins asked.

The committee is comprised of representatives from union, school district, principals and vice principals, and district PAC, superintendent Cam Pinkerton said. Parents were added to the committee later “But we didn’t mean to exclude anyone,” he said.

There has been discussion about re-drawing catchment boundaries, Pinkerton said as he laid out Gill’s catchment stats: 177 live within Gill’s border. Other students jump the border though and come in from other areas: 18 from Alberni Elementary; four from Maquinna; four from Eighth Avenue; eight from John Howitt; and 10 from Wood School.

Enforcing catchment boundaries isn’t in the cards though because provincial legislation allows for parents to choose where to send their kids to school, Pinkerton added.

Responding to a question about computer, music and library programs, school board chair Ransom said they will be impacted but not eliminated. “They won’t be in jeopardy; they’ll still be there,” Ransom said. “They could be different than what we have now but they’ll remain in one form or another.”

Audience member Chris Alemany asked where the scenario was trustees risked their positions by choosing to close no school. The scenario would “...see no school closed and your jobs lost and save 400 kids from being displaced,” Alemany said.

School boards have to pass balanced budgets by law, trustee Rosemarie Buchanan said. If not, they’ll be fired, a provincial appointee will be named and they’ll tell you what’s going to be done, Buchanan said. “That’s the danger in passing a deficit budget,” she said.

Gill parents feel blindsided by the news that their school may close. “We only found out two weeks ago. Ambushed — that’s how we feel,” Gill PAC chair Carly Asher said before the meeting.

Displacing 400 kids in a Gill closure versus displacing 150 kids in a Wood closure in a no-brainer, Asher said. “Trustees say they’re making the best decision for the whole school district,” Asher said.

“Well, they’re not putting their money where their mouths are because by displacing 400 kids they’re not doing that.”

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