SD8 moves forward with four school closures

Trustees voted in favour of closing four schools while deferring closure for Jewett and Winlaw.

The Kootenay Lake School District voted in favour of moving forward with four school closures at a L.V. Rogers meeting on Tuesday. They will finalize their plan on July 12.

The Kootenay Lake school district voted in favour of moving forward with the closure of four SD8 schools on Tuesday evening: Salmo Elementary, Yahk, Creston Education Centre and Trafalgar.

Meanwhile they passed motions to accept rural education funds for Winlaw and Jewett, a move that defers their impending closures.

“School closure is the last discussion any trustee wants to contemplate,” board chair Lenora Trenaman told the approximately 60 residents in attendance in the L.V. Rogers gymnasium.

“But it’s our duty to plan for the future.”

Over the course of the three-hour meeting, the board discussed each of the six schools being considered for closure separately, leaving the two most contentious conversations until last.

The first four passed first and second reading with little fanfare, though Nelson’s situation inspired some dialogue.

“There are too many ifs,” trustee Bill Maslechko said, going on to abstain from the Nelson vote. But Curtis Bendig said the closure of Trafalgar is an uncontroversial move that’s supported by the community and crucial to address its $11 million in deferred maintenance costs.

“As it stands Trafalgar is a significant financial liability,” he said. “But there’s no intention of closing Trafalgar until the rest of the family (of schools) is ready.”

The board was careful to make clear that the school closures being considered are contingent on the government’s support of the remainder of their plan, which will be finalized next week.

In Salmo that means the elementary school and high school will be amalgamated, while elsewhere schools will require funds to be rebuilt or renovated. Locally Wildflower has been approved to expand while Central will host the Homelinks, REACH, French immersion and DESK programs. South Nelson Elementary will be rebuilt.

Maslechko brought forward concerns about L.V. Rogers’ capacity, as the plan contemplates introducing an additional grade to the high school, but his feelings weren’t shared by Superintendent Jeff Jones or Bendig.

“Will things fit? Yes. Will it look the same? No,” said Bendig, noting that “my kids will attend these schools, my neighbours’ kids will.”

And though the board is welcoming the creation of the rural education enhancement fund (REEF) from the provincial government, which last week identified Winlaw and Jewett as recipients, they believe there’s still a long way to go to address the district’s looming issues.

“This battle isn’t over,” said Bendig, who told the crowd the contentious two-year facilities planning process has brought him to tears on multiple occasions.

“I’m under no illusion that it will be easy to get that capital funding. This will be a long road, but it’s one I’m interested in traveling down.”

Many of the trustees expressed skepticism about the government’s ongoing financial support, including Trenaman.

“I’m going to support this resolution but I don’t think it’s a long-term sustainable fix for the Slocan Valley…How can we trust this funding is going to be ongoing?”

She wasn’t the only one feeling that way. Dr. Marcia Braundy told the board she believes the funding was “a pittance” and “an insult from the government.”

“It was wrong of the province to act in this way,” she said. “There’s a very large prosperity fund in this government’s back pocket, but prosperity is when you educate the young people of this province.”

And the situation is far from over, trustees said.

“This will come up again. That’s the sad thing,” trustee Bob Wright said about the Slocan Valley. He was seconded by Huscroft, who called the REEF funding “a kneejerk reaction”.

“Proper funding of education should be important every year, not just pre-campaign,” Huscroft said. “Funding based on re-funding seems like an oxymoron.”

Winlaw advocates were out in force, and crowded the entrance to the high school with the signs that were formerly planted along the roadsides in the Slocan Valley.

“Winlaw School supports vulnerable children and families. Winlaw supports students that would be otherwise be homeschooled,” said trustee Sharon Nazaroff in an impassioned speech.

“The community has provided an abundance of feedback that overwhelmingly supports keeping Winlaw open…Our district has committed to a poverty reduction strategy. This is how we do it: by keeping Winlaw open.”

That drew applause.

Bendig told the crowd the REEF funding “isn’t a silver bullet” but will “buy the board time” to come up with longer term solutions.

Parents and residents were given an opportunity to speak at the end of the evening, which could not be video-conferenced due to technological trouble at the high school. One mother told the board she travelled over 200 kilometres to be present, and she felt it was “unacceptable” to hold such an important meeting without “including everyone in the district”.

“I think the problem is in Victoria,” said Area H director Walter Popoff, who encouraged everyone present to advocate on behalf of rural schools. He’s frustrated that the Slocan Valley has faced potential closures repeatedly.

“Closing a remote school is almost like closing a community down,” he said.

The district’s facilities plan will be finalized at a July 12 meeting at L.V. Rogers.

 

 

 

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Leafs beat Nitehawks for 8th straight win

The win gives Nelson a provisional division lead

Castlegar march ensures missing, murdered aboriginal women not forgotten

About 60 people took part in the Valentine’s day memorial

Jenner scored 2 in debut as Leafs beat Thunder Cats

Nelson is on a seven-game winning streak

First presumptive case of coronavirus identified in the Interior Health region

The woman, in her 30s, travelled from Shanghai and lives in the interior

VIDEO: Kawhi Leonard wins first Kobe Bryant All-Star MVP award

Leonard scored 30 points and hit eight 3-pointers to lead Team LeBron to a 157-155 victory

Monday marks one-year anniversary of man missing from Langley

42-year-old B.C. man, Searl Smith, was last seen leaving Langley Memorial Hospital on Feb. 17, 2019

BC Ferries sailings filling up Family Day Monday

More than 20 sailings added between Swartz Bay and Tsawwassen for long weekend

Amtrak warns of delays as railways from Seattle to B.C. blocked by Wet’suwet’en supporters

Coastal GasLink said it’s signed benefits agreements with all 20 elected band councils along pipeline route

Federal emergency group meets on pipeline protests as rail blockades continue

There’s mounting political pressure for Trudeau to put an end to the blockades

VIDEO: Minister reports ‘modest progress’ after blockade talks with First Nation

Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs say Coastal GasLink does not have authority to go through their lands

B.C. man released from quarantined cruise ship in Japan

Because Spencer Fehrenbacher has American citzensip, he was evacuated by the U.S.

Henrique scores 2 as Ducks soar past Canucks 5-1

Vancouver tumbles out of top spot in Pacific Division

Trudeau cancels Caribbean trip amid pipeline protests across Canada

Protests against Coastal GasLink have disrupted rail service

Most Read