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More talk about possible school closures in Parksville Qualicum Beach

Although school closures are an option, trustees say they are still trying to avoid them at all costs.

At a school board meeting Tuesday, trustees passed a motion directing acting superintendent Rollie Koop to prepare a report with recommendations whether to close schools, consolidate or reconfigure classes, to be presented in January. But trustee Ross Milligan had one stipulation.

"I just want to make sure the report shows all reasonable options other than closing schools so the public knows we looked at every possibility," he said. "Because that's what we promised we would do when we were elected, that no school would be closed until we were absolutely convinced that there was no other options to meet the budget deficit."

Koop reminded trustees that current enrolment in the district sits at 3,960, when capacity is 5,900. People were particularly surprised at that meeting to learn how under utilized the capacity was at the middle schools in the district, Koop said.

Funding in the province is per-student, and 90 per cent of expenditures in the district go to salaries and benefits. With rising costs also making a dent in theĀ  district funds, the school board is faced with finding $2.4 million over the next three years to meet its budget.

Although last year a minimal increase at the elementary school level indicated the enrolment decline in the district may be reversing, that is not the case, Koop said. Projections show that enrolment will continue to decline for 10 years, at which point it will nearly match what it is today, and then being to rise.

District staff will prepare the report and present it in January, and at that time the board will decide if they want to entertain the recommendations. At that point, a 90-day public consultation would begin and the board would vote on a motion at the end of April.

Koop said the results of the report would not likely resolve the budget deficit entirely, but that potential action at a facility may contribute to some cost savings in the overall budget.

The next public meeting on facilities takes place Monday, Dec. 2 at Springwood Middle School at 7 p.m., followed by another public meeting on December 9 at 7 p.m. at Kwalikum Secondary School.

Board Chair Lynette Kershaw said she hopes attendance improves at these facilities meetings.

"We're hoping as this process goes a bit further down the track that more people will realize the importance of showing up and coming to give their thoughts to the board to help us with this really difficult situation we're going to find ourselves in very short fashion."

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