The Strathcona Regional District is working to strengthen its relationship with the school district and has signed off on a new joint committee.
At last week’s board meeting, the regional district appointed its four electoral area directors – Jim Abram, Noba Anderson, Brenda Leigh and Gerald Whalley – to a liaison group that is expected to meet once or twice a year to discuss items of mutual interest.
One item in particular is the potential repurposing or closing of schools as discussed in School District 72’s (SD72) 10-year Facility Plan.
The regional district is interested in being first in line to make an offer on the former Stuart Island school, in order to purchase the property on behalf of the Stuart Island Community Association. The group owns adjoining land and has been trying to acquire the property in order to turn it into parkland.
Board of Education Chair Susan Wilson wrote to the regional district last November, suggesting both SD 72 and the regional district form a liaison committee to discuss the Facility Plan.
“The process of reviewing disposal of properties is complex and time consuming,” Wilson wrote.
“We are at the beginning of this process and would welcome the opportunity for dialogue sooner rather than later.”
Wilson said this year the school board is pursuing options for the disposal of its surplus properties, school catchment changes and review and resource technology.
She added that the board will review its four rural schools, in particular, and engage with communities to determine how best to support those schools.
For that reason, the regional district chose to appoint its four electoral directors to the liaison committee.
Campbell River Director and Coun. Michele Babchuk, who is a former chair of the board of education, said it’s an opportunity for the rural directors to engage with the school district.
“I think there’s a real opportunity for the area directors, not so much around school closures or whatnot, but for alternative methods of delivering education to their areas,” she said.
“And you know, in a lot of cases it’s not bricks and mortar and that could be different for each and every one of them.”
Area D Director Leigh said she believes it will be beneficial to meet with the school district and try to heal old wounds, particularly the board of education’s decision last year to close Area D’s Oyster River elementary.
“Unfortunately, Area D has not had a happy relationship with SD 72 and there are things we need to iron out with them regarding the properties in Area D and the quality of education our children are getting in Area D,” Leigh said.
Babchuk, though, said it would be “an error” to treat the committee as an avenue for the regional district to meddle in the school district’s decision making.
“I would like to point out, before we go down the rabbit hole here, is that this is a liaison committee,” Babchuk said. “This is not for the board to supersede any of their issues into the decision making of School District 72.
“This is a communication function and I think that they are looking at it in that capacity,” Babchuk added. “It’s been a long-time coming. This is an opportunity for communication, an opportunity to talk about individual areas and their challenges that they have for educational delivery.”
In the end, the board agreed to appoint all four electoral directors to the committee which will include trustees Gail Kirchner and Board Chair Wilson representing SD 72.
The committee will not be a decision-making body and is meant to be a select, or temporary, committee with a mandate to liaise with School District 72 regarding its 2015-2025 Facility Plan and to advise the regional district of the school district’s plans for consideration of closing or repurposing any public schools.