School board trustees are considering plans that could see the closure of several elementary schools and the re-organization of others to deal with declining student enrolment and budget pressures.
The long-term facility plan makes a number of recommendations for the 2015 school year including the closure of Silver Creek Elementary for September 2015 and reconfiguring the grade levels at Ranchero Elementary, Parkview Elementary in Sicamous, Falkland Elementary and North Shuswap Elementary.
The 10-year plan focuses on dealing with the budget impacts and meeting the needs of 5,500 students, down from 8,000 a decade ago.
“We have to take a look at what this means,” says board chair Bobbi Johnson. “We have half-empty schools.”
The school board will not be making an immediate decision on the recommendations at, but instead will be deciding whether to initiate the 60-day community consultation process on the proposed changes.
“Nothing will be decided right away, but we have to put these options out there as part of the process. We might decide to do some, we might decide not to do any. I can’t say what we will do, but we have to do something with all these empty spaces,” says Johnson.
Public meetings will be held in each of the affected areas to allow for community input.
A final decision on any school closures and reconfigurations will take place at the board meeting in May.
The decision on whether to proceed with the consultation process on the recommended changes was made at Tuesday evening’s school board meeting which took place after the News’ press deadline.
The five options being considered for the 2015 school year include:
• Convert Parkview Elementary in Sicamous from a K-7 to K-5 school, close a “significant portion of Parkview Elementary and create a Grade 6-8, “middle school within a school” program using existing space at Eagle River Secondary;
• The closure of Silver Creek Elementary. The report indicates the school district will review redistributing the Silver Creek elementary students to either Hillcrest or South Broadview Elementary, while the middle school-aged students would attend Shuswap Middle School;
• Convert Ranchero Elementary from a K-7 to a K-5 school and transfer the Grade 6 and 7 students to Shuswap Middle School;
• Convert North Shuswap Elementary from K-7 to K-8 school;
• Convert Falkland Elementary from K-7 to K-8 school.
The most dramatic change proposed is the closure of Silver Creek Elementary, which currently has 36 students, and whose enrolment over the next few years is projected to be as low as 22 students. In a report presented to the board at the last meeting, staff indicated closing the school would save the school district $375,000 per year.
Many parents in the area are opposed to the closure, with the school’s Parent Advisory Committee supportive of a recent initiative to convert the school to a Montessori model. In a letter the board, they obtained 20 confirmed intentions from Salmon Arm parents to register in such a program at Silver Creek, which would boost the current enrolment level.
Another suggestion from the PAC was to possibly convert Silver Creek into a K-8 school.
In addition, the facilities report makes a number of other recommendations for the next 10 years, however, the board will be looking at deferring any specific community consultation on those points until some point in the future.
These deferred motions have significant long-term impacts on the structure of education in the district and include:
• Consideration of amalgamating all Grade 9 to 12 students at the Sullivan campus within five to 10 years;
• Consideration of converting Eagle River Secondary to a K-12 school and closing Parkview Elementary within an additional two years;
• Consideration of closing Len Wood Middle School and converting Pleasant Valley Secondary to a Grade 6-12 school for September 2017;
• Consideration of closing Grindrod Elementary and converting M.V. Beattie in Enderby to a K-5 school and A.L. Fortune Secondary to a Grade 6-12 “middle school within a secondary school” for September 2016. Grindrod Elementary students would be redirected to M.V. Beattie or Ranchero Elementary.
While the above four recommendations are part of the report, the motion indicates the school board will set them aside for the time being, and will only begin consultation on the recommendations that involve changes for the September 2015 school year.