District struggles with possible school closure

School District 69 (Qualicum), like most districts, has struggled with funding for years and this year parents were shocked to hear school closures might be considered.

Declining enrolment and the loss of funding led to tough budgeting decisions in the last few years including layoffs and cuts to bus services.

A public meeting at the Qualicum Beach Civic Centre Oct. 2, 2010 brought the funding issue home to many parents who heard for the first time the district’s long term facilities review was considering closing schools.

Matrix Planning Associates presented the preliminary findings at that meeting and recently recommended options in a draft version submitted to the school board.

Looking at the next 15 years, the review projects “declining enrolment and the resulting loss of funds will necessitate school closures to ensure educational opportunities and course selections for students.”

Matrix’s recommended option closes Kwalikum Secondary School, because it causes the least disruption to other schools in the district, would save $800,000 a year and use school space more efficiently.

The news hit the community hard with hundreds turning up to various Parent Advisory Council and community meetings in the following weeks and over 2,000 people joining a “Save KSS” Facebook page.

After that initial meeting board chair Eve Flynn said they aren’t looking at closing a school to save a few dollars, but that with declining numbers classes get too small to be viable and they simply wouldn’t be able to offer some courses.

“People are now aware of the issue and that’s great,” she said at the time. “We have time, time is not working against us.”

Of the four selected Matrix options, three closed KSS and the option that didn’t would dismantle the entire middle school system, closing two middle schools, converting one into a French immersion elementary, and disrupting every elementary school by adding Grades 6 and 7.

Matrix’s evaluation, weighted for educational criteria, gave that option the lowest grade.

Concerned parents have suggested they don’t trust the enrolment projections but at the initial meeting Matrix consultant Bill Wood said the district is in for “a rocky road over the next 10 years to 15 years.”

“It’s not that the children are going anywhere, they just aren’t there,” he said, adding there are currently half as many students in Grade 2 as there are in Grade 12. When that age group reaches Grade 12 there will be half as many grads 10 years from now.

The board will post more details of their timeline in late January and stress their repeated statements that no decisions have been made and the process will continue throughout the next (2011/12) school year.

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