Six SD8 schools could close if the facilities plan unveiled by the Kootenay Lake school board tonight goes ahead — Trafalgar, Winlaw, Salmo Elementary, Jewett, Yahk and Creston Education Centre. And though there were some minor modifications made to the district’s initial reconfiguration plan, introduced to the community a month ago, the gist remains the same.
“Tonight’s meeting is about what we might do, not what we will do,” board chair Lenora Trenaman said at Tuesday evening’s board meeting, noting trustees and administration had a lengthy meeting with legal counsel earlier that day to iron out exactly how they plan to move forward.
She said things are getting urgent.
“The district is coming into a crisis as far as I’m concerned, and we need to be able to make something happen. We need to address declining enrolment and deferred maintenance costs in our district.”
N30 becomes N31
During the meeting trustees debated the merits of various modifications to the plan. While discussing the Nelson area scenario, N30, trustee Curtis Bendig spoke in favour of a Central School reconfiguration that would see Wildflower grow by approximately 56 students and eliminate the need to create a new K to 7 stream in the building.
“Nelson has a lot of moving pieces. There’s passion in this town, there are a lot of activists in this town, and I love that,” Bendig said, noting he was amazed by the community’s engagement in the process.
“What we heard was the broad strokes were good, but it still needed some fine-tuning.”
Along with Wildflower growing and inviting new students into their program, the revised plan would mean Central (pictured below) would now host the Homelinks, REACH, French immersion and DESK programs. Trafalgar, meanwhile, would close and South Nelson would be rebuilt.
Parents have named their modified plan N31. The board voted in favour of it.
Slocan Valley controversy, Salmo aims to create partnerships
A more controversial topic was the Slocan Valley, where the board was considering closing either Winlaw or W.E. Graham. Though trustee Sharon Nazaroff introduced motions to remove both options from the plan, the board voted in favour of entering the consideration process for Winlaw’s closure.
“We recognize how important every rural school is,” trustee Rebecca Huscroft said, reassuring parents that they deliberated extensively before reaching this decision. “You have been heard and we have listened. There has been very careful consideration involved in this process.”
Bendig, Heather Suttie and Bill Maslechko agreed, calling the process “gruelling” and detailing all the factors they took into account—geography, vulnerable populations and the idiosyncratic nature of the Slocan Valley, to name a few.
“This process sparked a lot of interest in Slocan Valley,” said Nazaroff, noting they’ve heard from Slocan Mayor Jessica Lunn, RDCK director Walter Popoff and many other community members horrified at the idea of losing a local school.
“This is a community that loves its schools, and these conversations are ongoing.”
Not all aspects of the plan are unpopular or controversial, though.
Trustee Bob Wright told the board Salmo has voiced support for closing their elementary school and amalgamating it with the high school, but emphasized they need to see a decent investment in construction and expansion for the plan to work.
“The community engagement in Salmo has been amazing,” said Bendig. “We need to keep that momentum going and keep working with the community to create partnerships.”
Meadow Creek community incensed by decision
As for Jewett school in Meadow Creek, trustees weren’t moved to alter their plans for closing it, saying they couldn’t justify maintaining an institution for approximately 22 students.
“How do you maintain a facility for 10 to 25 students, and how do we create a vibrant learning plan?” Bendig said. “This plan starts that conversation.”
RDCK Area D director Aimee Watson took to Facebook to vent her frustration.
“Shocked that despite all the work the Jewett working group, myself and the immense support we received from all over, not just the Lardeau Valley, the board went ahead and disregards it all.”
She noted the board receives a $157,000 rural incentive grant “yet they want to drastically reduce the educational environment at our children’s cost by putting them in a portable and using these funds elsewhere in the district.”
She called that decision “appalling” and went on to say “we feel we have not been heard nor adequately represented.”
Jewett’s closure would mean K to 3 students remain in the community and attend classes at the community hall, while Grades 4 and 5 students would be bused to J.V. Humphries in Kaslo, joining older students who already make the trip.
Wanting a Cadillac education system
Once again, the subject turned to the provincial government’s funding of education.
“I feel like I’m doing Christy Clark’s dirty work,” said Bendig, noting he’s been encouraged to quit in protest — an option he considered. “This has been an emotionally charged and emotionally draining process for me.”
He said the issue is wanting a “Cadillac education system” when “we can only afford the Volkswagen.”
District parent advisory council chair Sheri Walsh and Nelson District Teachers’ Association president Paul Boscariol both urged the board to continue advocating on behalf of education funding. Chair Lenora Trenaman cast the deciding vote to contribute $300 to a local advocacy campaign — despite what Bendig called “the hypocrisy of pulling money out of classrooms to pay for a campaign saying we need more money in our classrooms.”
News of the potential closures prompted responses from SD8 teachers, including L.V. Rogers’ Sherry McGregor, who posted on Twitter: “Really worry about Jewett. Know that road in between Meadow Creek and Kaslo. Kids will get stuck in Kaslo overnight.”
“Sounds like the end of Nelson floor hockey,” tweeted SD8 teacher Danny Leeming, noting the program currently takes place at Trafalgar.
Parents frustrated by lack of open debate
Some parents who attended the meeting until the end expressed frustration at the lack of open debate during the proceedings—which would clear up why, for instance, the board opted to close Winlaw rather than W.E. Graham—but Trenaman explained that will come later in the process. Before closing the schools the board has to go through the traditional closure consideration process, which requires them to begin from a neutral standpoint.
Amidst all the talk of the facilities plan, the board also voted in favour of permanently shuttering Yahk — a school that has no students enrolled for next year. And once you factor in the closure of Creston Education Centre, SD8’s tally of soon-to-close schools rises to six. But shuttering education facilities is never a decision they take lightly, trustees insisted.
As Bendig put it, “Trafalgar is connected to virtually every family in this community, and we need to honour that.”
That’s what they hope to do.
Ultimately all the tweaks and modifications to the plan were compiled by secretary-treasurer Kim Morris, who distributed them to everyone present before moving on to a vote. Suttie, Nazaroff and Maslechko spoke on behalf of Winlaw, and said they would either vote against or abstain from the recommendation because of that aspect.
“There are parts I can support and parts I can’t, so I’ll be voting against this,” said trustee Cody Beebe. Shortly later the rest of the board, minus Maslechko and Nazaroff, voted in favour of going ahead.
During the process Trenaman encouraged the board to move on, reiterating once again that the plan is a draft and could continue to change until it’s finalized in July. The board has not created a timeline for when the schools will close, partly because the entire enterprise is dependent on whether or not they can get a cash influx from the government.
“There’s still room for further tweaking,” Bendig said. “But I think we’re going down the right path on this. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us.”
An amendment to the draft facilities plan (below) was debated during Tuesday night’s school board meeting.