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Public meetings part of 90-day consult on school closures in Parksville Qualicum Beach

The school board is looking for input on their plan to address empty seats and budget shortfalls through school closures.

A 90-day consultation period, required by the province and board policy 3040, has started and the Board of Education of School District 69 (Qualicum) is hosting the first public meeting tomorrow (Wednesday, Feb. 12) at Springwood Middle School, starting at 7 p.m.

"The board is committed to being open to new information and that could lead to anything from fine tuning to big changes, everything's open," said secretary treasurer Erica Bailey.

The next public meetings are Monday, Feb. 24 at Qualicum Middle School and Thursday, March 13 at Oceanside Middle School. Both meetings start at 7 p.m.

On Jan. 28, the board passed a motion that they intend to act on the staff recommendations developed over two months of consultation, but not before April 29.

The main recommendation is to reconfigure the school district to a Kindergarten to Grade 7 and Grade 8-12 model, eliminating middle schools, likely resulting in school closures.

The recommendation includes closing four elementary schools (Qualicum Beach, Parksville, Winchelsea and French Creek) to adjust for 2,000 empty student spaces and help with a projected $3.6 million deficit over the next five years.

Board chair Lynnette Kershaw points out that the closures would only save half their shortfall and they are still looking for ideas to save money and generate revenue.

She said that is one of the goals of this consultation process, which will delve into the data more specifically and she encourages people to review the work to date, available at www.sd69.bc.ca under the 'Quick Links.'

"A lot of people still don't know what's going on," Kershaw said, so there will be a lot of information at the coming meetings, where they will also be looking for specific and constructive ideas that might help.

There are eight meetings scheduled with staff and the public in schools and other meetings will be added with stakeholder groups including unions, government officials, chambers of commerce and other interested parties.

A special board meeting is scheduled for Tue., April 29 at 7 p.m. in the Parksville Civic and Technology Centre Forum to approve the facilities option in time also pass the 2014-15 preliminary budget.

More information, including the staff report and public presentations, is available at www.sd69.bc.ca. There is also a dedicated e-mail for questions and input: Facilities2014@sd69.bc.ca.

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