Two SD8 schools could be saved from impending closure thanks to a rural education funding announcement made by the provincial government today, which named Jewett and either W.E. Graham or Winlaw as recipients.
“One thing I appreciate about the response to our application is it does provide the future perspective the board was looking for,” superintendent Jeff Jones told the Star.
“The trustees were concerned because the initial announcement listed schools being considered for closure in 2016/17 as eligible, but the trustees were thinking about 2017/18 and beyond.”
In fact, they’re looking even further than that.
“Our board has a very far-reaching draft facilities plan, and they’re not just dealing with a year from now — they have a plan that contemplates all the way to 2023/24.”
The current draft facilities plan, which has been in development for years, could result in the closure of six schools: Yahk, Trafalgar, Winlaw, Salmo elementary, Jewett and Creston education centre. Last week the board applied for rural education funding for three of those — Winlaw, Salmo and Jewett, as well as one other school that wasn’t on the list: W.E. Graham.
“Both Winlaw and W.E. Graham meet most of the requirements for the program,” said chair Lenora Trenaman. “So we’ve been told once we decide which one we’ll close, they’ll offer funding for 2017/18 for the school to stay open.”
And though the ministry couldn’t put a specific dollar amount on how much money one of the Slocan Valley schools could receive, they’ve promised $46,947 for Jewett.
As for Salmo, though SD8’s application for rural education funding was denied, the ministry acknowledged Salmo’s situation as a priority and promised to support the district’s potential plan to amalgamate it with the secondary school.
“It’s not quite a promise, but it’s a recognition that Salmo is an important part of the draft facilities plan,” said Jones.
Trenaman said the news is welcome but the facilities planning process continues to be contentious and controversial, with emotions running high.
“Our communities, our parents, have been put through the wringer and so has the board of education and our staff. They’re anxious and even more anxious since this whole thing came down from the premier’s office. It’s added fuel to the anxiety we’re experiencing.”
That will come to a head at two upcoming meetings at L.V. Rogers on July 5 and 12 at 5 p.m. At those meetings the trustees will deliberate and debate the merits of their various planning scenarios, and then will vote to finalize their facilities plan.
“The way I see the announcement is it gives the board more information that will inform their decision,” said Jones. “They will have to contemplate a full district perspective, and then they will make their decision on July 5 and 12.”