The Kootenay Lake school board didn’t realize they weren’t going to openly debate their amended draft facilities plan at their most recent meeting until they walked into the building.
“The whole purpose of us going into a committee of the whole format was to relax the board meeting rules and have a full dialogue,” board chair Lenora Trenaman told the Star.
But when they arrived that day, legal counsel informed them that according to their policies they have to proceed with the school closure consideration process prior to the trustees stating their personal thoughts on the matter, because they have to demonstrate “an open mind”.
Six schools are potentially on the chopping block: Trafalgar, Winlaw, Salmo Elementary, Jewett, Creston Education Centre and Yahk. According to the process trustees have to demonstrate an “open mind” during the present 60-day consideration period.
Essentially, these policies temporarily muzzle trustees, preventing them from expressing opinions until the process concludes. During the most recent meeting, trustees repeatedly referred to a list of rules on sheets of paper in front of them, at times expressing confusion about what they were and weren’t allowed to say.
‘I can understand the parents’ frustrations’
“That day was really, really difficult,” said Slocan Valley trustee Sharon Nazaroff.
“Right up until that day we thought we were going to have that debate and we were telling the community that. It made me uncomfortable that we had to go back on that. I cannot speak for the board, but I can understand the parents’ frustrations.”
Trenaman also sympathizes, but was quick to point out the public will still hear that debate — just not until July 5. That’s when they’ll unveil their finalized plan and engage in full deliberation.
“It will be our plan, and our intention, but once we come up with that final plan the mechanisms and the work that’s required will proceed,” said Trenaman.
“There might be roadblocks and it might change. All the feedback received between now and July 5 will be heard and considered as we go through this deliberation process. A lot of folks think it’s a done deal, and that’s not the case. This plan will represent what might happen, not what will happen.”
Following legislated processes
Superintendent Jeff Jones feels the board’s caution was warranted, and crucial to ensure they’re following the proper legislated processes.
“They need to make sure they don’t put themselves, the board or the community into a difficult and challenging position — one worse than the one we’re already in,” he said.
“What we knew was it would be inappropriate to advance a plan that said a school is closing without going through the proper process as outlined in the board’s own policy.”
He said in a way, this buys parents more time.
“Every one of these communities have asked for more time, and this gives them that.”
Though parents and trustees have decried what they call an underfunding of education, Jones feels this process has a noble goal: addressing under-utilized space.
“This is a very challenging time for all of our communities as we consider what lays in front of us and how to best meet the needs of our students,” he said.
“Really this is an opportunity for us to see where we’re spending our dollars and where we don’t need to spend them. That’s what this exercise is all about — could we spend that money better on behalf of our kids?”
‘An opportunity to step up’
Nazaroff put forward motions at the most recent meeting to remove both Winlaw and W.E. Graham from the list of schools being considered for closure. She was only successful with W.E. Graham.
“I know it’s been disappointing,” she said. “But let’s look at this as an opportunity to step up and say more. Maybe there are people who haven’t gotten involved yet.”
She’s game to hear any ideas parents might have.
“I think trustees are ready to keep listening, and our minds are not made up. I would encourage everyone in the Slocan Valley to keep submitting their ideas and perspectives.”
And she has a message to parents upset by the potential closures: “Don’t give up hope.”