School district options explored

Everyone agreed School District #83’s got to something to deal with declining enrolment

More than 180 people gathered in the gym at the Salmon Arm Secondary Jackson Campus Tuesday night to discuss the fiscal realities facing the school district and give feedback on options for dealing with it.

More than 180 people gathered in the gym at the Salmon Arm Secondary Jackson Campus Tuesday night to discuss the fiscal realities facing the school district and give feedback on options for dealing with it.

Everyone agreed School District #83’s got to something to deal with declining enrolment and the need to balance an increasingly squeezed budget.

What wasn’t clear was the best way to go about it.

A meeting with more than 180 parents, teachers, administrators, local government representatives and others drew a host of ideas about ways for the school district to cut costs – including closing schools, charging bussing fees and reducing the number of school trustees.

One of the more controversial ideas – the potential closure of Silver Creek Elementary, which trustees turned down last spring, was back up for discussion among many at the meeting. And it appeared the option of amalgamating Silver Creek’s 43 students with the students at Salmon Arm West Elementary was more palatable than the previous option which would have seen Silver Creek students bussed to Hillcrest Elementary.

The message that seemed to generate the most consensus was to protect programs and services for students, rather than spend money on operating school buildings, some of which are running at less than half of their capacity.

Superintendent Glenn Borthistle explained the school district would have to consider cuts to numerous education options if the current number of schools were maintained.

“We can’t stay as we are,” emphasized Borthistle. “We have to do something.”

Options for cuts included music programs, library time, counselling services, supports for struggling readers, speech and language programs, alternate education, gifted programs, career and trade programs and supports for special-needs students.

“I was encouraged by how many people talked about the importance of keeping those basics – numeracy, literacy, social wellness, speech,” says Jennifer Henrie, vice-president of the District Parent Advisory Council. “And by how many were OK with some reconfigurations of schools as long as these programs are not stripped away.”

Henrie also had praise for the way the meeting was conducted, saying the tone was not adversarial, allowing for a lot of honest feedback from participants.

After the town hall meetings, the next step will be for the board to create motions or proposals for change that will be presented in February. This would be followed by public input on specific proposals in March and April. The board is required to hold 60-day consultation periods  for any proposed school closure.

 

Salmon Arm Observer