News

‘Save Qualicum Beach Elementary School’ group meets tonight at civic centre

A group of concerned citizens is gaining momentum in its effort to save Qualicum Beach Elementary School from being closed, according to its organizers.

Anna Sjoo, whose children currently attend QBES, said the group has held meetings with local and regional governments, as well as school trustees, to fight the facility's closure, as currently proposed by school district staff.

"We are encouraged by the responses we are getting, especially from the Town of Qualicum Beach. Discussions have been focused on ways we can generate additional revenue as well as how to save on expenses," said Sjoo, who along with another Qualicum Beach resident, Anne Skipsey, have spearheaded the grassroots drive to save the school.

The group's next meeting is tonight, Tuesday, Feb. 18 in the West Hall at the Qualicum Beach Civic Center. A presentation on community schools at 6 p.m. will be followed by the regular meeting at 7 p.m. Anyone interested in the fate of QBES is welcome to attend.

In a news release issued Saturday, Sjoo said the group's members recently attended a consultation session hosted by the school district to gather more information and to address funding and expense projections that have prompted staff to direct the board to close four district elementary schools, including QBES. The group, she said, has expressed concern that closing four of 14 schools will result in only a 2.5 per cent reduction in district expenses.

Skipsey said the district needs to take a step back and look at the bigger picture for Qualicum Beach, where the downtown core is slated to lose a vibrant social and economic driver.

"QBES is the heart of Qualicum Beach," she said. "Once you take that away, it will never come back. The board has to realize that our kids and our community all benefit from being in that location. We want the board to reconsider the staff proposal and keep the school open while we work with government, private enterprise and other institutions to investigate new ways to bring money into the district."

To that end, the group is hosting meetings to discuss options like public-private partnerships, community schooling, cause-marketing campaigns and classroom rentals to local businesses.

Skipsey said other jurisdictions have succeeded in developing innovative ways to help fill district coffers when government funding is lacking. However, she also notes that district staffers have not yet addressed the lion's share of the budget, which is expended as employee wages and benefits.

"The superintendent has said up to 90 per cent of the money goes to staff. But at this time it appears they're only looking at cost-cutting measures on the remaining 10 per cent, which are the schools," said Skipsey.

According to information posted on the district's website, 25 employees are earning over $100,000 a year, with the highest on the 2012 list at more than $170,000. Skipsey said a large number of employees are reaching retirement age, but savings on replacing senior staff do not appear to be considered in their budgets.

And while plummeting enrolment numbers are being blamed for the district's financial woes, Sjoo said QBES is thriving, with student numbers actually on the rise.

"We keep hearing from families who have recently moved into town, and many of them chose to live here because of the central location of QBES. Our recommendation . . . is to shut down the middle school instead and retain QBES at the center of the community."

The group has also created a website where visitors can download petition forms, e-mail district trustees, or join a Facebook group to stay informed. For more information, go to SaveQBES.com.

— NEWS Staff/Submitted by Anna Sjoo

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