Council still hopes to keep Qualicum Beach Elementary School open
Town councillors are still taking steps in an attempt to keep Qualicum Beach Elementary School open.
Coun. Mary Brouilette said it was a sad day on April 29 when District 69 trustees passed the vote to close QBES, and that perhaps trustees didn't understand what Qualicum council was requesting.
"Maybe there has been a lack of understanding — we're not asking for special treatment, we're asking to give something back as a community," she said.
Council had requested that the school board delay closure of QBES for one year while a committee works out the details of turning it into a community school. She said there is a qualified group of volunteers working on the plans and council had committed dollars to the project and to help fund a co-ordinator. Council has also been working on a family attraction and retention program for four years, she said.
"Maybe (the trustees) don't understand all that," she said. "We're not asking them for more money, we're asking them for a year to give this community school an opportunity, we do not want to see a boarded up building in the middle of our downtown."
She put forward a motion for staff to organize a meeting with Parksville-Qualicum MLA Michelle Stilwell and Education Minister Peter Fassbender to discuss the designation of QBES as a community school and the deferment of one year for closure.
Coun. Scott Tanner said it was frustrating to hear the trustees decision as the business plan presented to them was excellent, he said, created by a group of highly skilled professionals.
Coun. Bill Luchtmeijer said council had been told by the school superintendent that the district wasn’t planning on selling or redeveloping the school, but just wanted to close it to save operating expenses.
“To me that means a mothball school in the middle of out downtown.”
Coun. Willie said council has to take some blame for the situation the school district is in because it is in part due to the policies and actions of council over the last 10 or 15 years. Three years ago a new set of trustees were elected following the fight to keep Kwalikum Secondary School open, he said, and Lynette Kershaw, now school board chair, was very vocal about keeping that school open. It has been a tough decision for trustees to close the schools, he said, and he agreed council should do what they can to keep QBES open, but he wasn’t sure this motion was the best process to follow. After some more discussion, the motion passed unanimously.
Co-chair of the Qualicum Beach Community School Steering Committee Anna Sjoo spoke after the meeting, stating that dispute the vote on April 29, the group would keep moving forward with plans to keep the school open.
“The hardest part for me was when I came home and my children came running to car and said, “Mommy did you save the school?’ and I said, ‘not yet.’”
Bill Preston also spoke to council and the gallery after the meeting. He is working with the steering committee and has been working in community schools and education for 30 years.
“I have never seen at the early stages such a highly organized committee and highly organized group in all those 30 years.”
Preston said that the school board in District 68, Nanaimo-Ladysmith, passed a motion to close schools in the Cedar district and one of those schools has gone to court and the decision has been overturned.
“So this is not over and we will fight to the very end,” he said.
-As expected, the School District 69 board of trustees gave third and final reading to the motion to close French Creek Community School on Thursday night. The vote required a special meeting the day after the main meeting to close four elementary schools because they needed unanimous consent to give all three readings in one meeting, which they didn't get with trustee Julie Austin voting against the motion at both meetings.