The School District isn’t giving people enough time to have their say about decisions that could have a crippling effect on their lives, according to Jim Abram, Area C (Quadra and Discovery Islands) Director for the Strathcona Regional District.
Specifically, he’s worried about the future of Quadra Elementary and Surge Narrows Elementary on Read Island and how a potential closure of those facilities would destroy the communities they serve.
The district is taking community feedback on recommendations presented to the board at the Nov. 17 public meeting (PDF) and include the closure of two elementary schools in the district, until the end of the month. Abram’s feedback is that he thinks there needs to be more time for the communities who will likely be effected by these recommendations to review the proposal before the board makes any decisions.
“That’s not consultation,” Abram says. “That’s a joke. There are a whole whack of people out there who want you to talk to them about this, and you can’t do that in that amount of time.
“The viability of our communities has already been seriously threatened by BC Ferries fares and service cuts and to now have to consider the possibility of a school(s) closure or reduction in classes will literally kill our communities,” he writes in a letter to the board. “Communities are built around the existence of elementary schools. To even consider closing the ones I have mentioned would be a serious blow to our island life and community existence.”
It’s easy to see why he’s concerned. Quadra Elementary received the second-worst score of all buildings in the district on a recent independent Facility Condition Assessment – tied with Discovery Passage Elementary and Cedar Elementary’s Annex – and is sitting 64 per cent empty, with only four of a possible 11 classrooms being utilized.
Surge Narrows is in relatively good condition compared to other facilities in the district, but has only 11 students enrolled and has room for 42 – and its enrolment isn’t projected to increase.
“I respectfully request that the decision on the staff recommendations be deferred until your January 2016 meeting to give people time to study the proposal more thoroughly,” Abram’s letter says. “Consultation as proposed on a predetermined direction is meaningless and unproductive.”
Abram says when considering school closures, you need to also consider the effect on the community itself, and he’s fearful that’s not going to be done – that they are just going to look at numbers on a page.
“When you’re looking at closing Pinecrest and sending those kids to the next closest school, or whatever, that’s a lot different than closing Surge Narrows and leaving them nothing,” Abram says. “You’re basically crippling that community. People will have to sell their houses and move to get their kids an education, and that’s unfair.”
Abram says he’s been receiving a lot of feedback about the district’s plan, and is hoping to get on the agenda at the Dec. 8 public meeting, where the district is expected to rule on adopting the recommendations, as a delegation to express his constituents’ views to the board.
“I represent these people, and they’re upset, so I have an obligation to express that for them,” he says, and he expects that many of them will be in attendance for the meeting, as well.
The recommendations were received by the board after a review of the district’s facilities found aging and under-utilized buildings cause a significant financial burden to the district and may prevent the district from receiving funds from the Ministry of Education down the road if the situation is not addressed.
“When you put in a request for funding, for major renovations, for capital, they will look at the condition of the facility – they don’t want to be investing in an electrical upgrade when the whole building needs to be replaced – as well as looking at empty classrooms,” Secretary-Treasurer Kevin Patrick told the board at the Oct. 27 meeting, which prompted the recommendations. “If you’ve got two schools with very empty classrooms, and you need to rebuild both, they likely will suggest to rebuild one.”
Feedback can be provided by email at email@example.com or by mail, addressed to the Secretary-Treasurer’s office, SD72.
After the Mirror went to press, the School District responded to Abrams’ letter, saying, in part, “It would seem that there is some misunderstanding and angst circulating amongst Area C residents with respect to the recommendations contained within the draft facility plan and community consultation, particularly the potential impact for Quadra Elementary and Surge Narrows School. This letter is to provide clarification and outline our next steps with the hope of alleviating some of this anxiety.”
The letter, signed by board chair Susan Wilson, goes on to say that Area C schools are not ones being considered for closure.
“The only possible school closures being considered at this point are of two elementary schools within the greater Campbell River area by the end of June 2016. The report does not contain a recommendation to close any of our Area C schools,” the letter reads.
“With respect to Quadra Elementary and Surge Narrows School, our Board of Education and School District 72 senior management understands the importance of these schools to their island communities.”
The letter also states that the current feedback period – ending Nov. 30 – is by no means the only opportunity for the community to have its say.
“It has never been the intention of the Board of Education that the request for email feedback on the draft facilities plan by November 30 would be the only opportunity for consultation, but rather an initial opportunity to hear questions and concerns from individual members of the public that would need to be addressed in future consultations.”