I’m new to the area and was curious why the local school board was planning to close Winlaw elementary school. From what I had read it was a growing school at near capacity (seemingly opposite to that often cited case for closing a rural school — dwindling enrolment in an aging population). Neither of the public consultations I attended at WE Graham Elementary School in Slocan on May 17 or Winlaw Elementary School on June 13 provided any answers — or did they?
The school board trustees weren’t talking. They were sitting in silence, muzzled by their legal counsel, as dozens of concerned parents, community members and children made presentations on the harmful effects that closing Winlaw Elementary would have on the community and its children. It didn’t seem like any solutions were actually being sought in this process, that it was more for show than anything. I had the uncomfortable feeling that I was watching some sort of dog and pony show unfolding. After reviewing the data on their website (www.sd8.bc.ca), my trepidation only got stronger.
Each scenario the school board was considering had been graded against 16 different criteria such that each scenario was given a point score out of 100 and then the top scoring scenarios were selected. Keeping Winlaw open (scenario SV-SQ) had scored 41 out of 100 while closing Winlaw and busing all the kids to WE Graham in Slocan (scenario SV-3) had scored 48 out of 100. That’s why Winlaw was on the chopping block.
But how was it that keeping Winlaw open had scored so badly? The data seemed heavily biased towards closing schools.
Nowhere in the 16 criteria was any consideration given towards the increased risk to the safety of the children due to busing them around on dangerous winter roads. This should be a major factor in evaluating the different scenarios!
Criteria 10 and 11 (improve the safety, quality and sustainability of facilities) were allotted 19 of the 100 points in the evaluation. Keeping Winlaw open scored a disastrous zero points out of 19 in these criteria. How is this possible? Is the building about to fall over? Pertinent to this is a previous evaluation on deferred maintenance costs for Winlaw pegged at 1.3 million over the next eight years (50 per cent of the cost of rebuilding the whole school!). But as was pointed out in the Winlaw “consultation,” this assessment is heavily inflated and includes many items that are just not required, like around $100,000 to pave the driveway and parking area.
Criteria 7 (provide schools within preferred capacity ranges) – if you thought keeping Winlaw open would score well in this criteria because it’s at nearly 100 per cent enrolment (what the school board wants, right?) you would be wrong – keeping the school open scores 1 out of 4 points in this category, same as a school that is only 10 per cent full.
And so on.
Many of these flaws in the data were pointed out to the trustees at the Winlaw “consultation.” Is the data going to be changed to correct these inconsistencies? Of course not, there are no plans to do this.
So the question is: will the trustees listen to their electorate or capitulate to the biased data.
Kevin Shaw, Winlaw