School District 69 administration staff is recommending the closure of Parksville Elementary, Qualicum Beach Elementary, Winchelsea Elementary and French Creek Community School in Coombs.
The recommended plan would eliminate middle schools in the district altogether and instead run Kindergarten through Grade 7 at remaining elementary and middle schools and Grade 8 through 12 at both high schools, Kwalikum Secondary School and Ballenas Secondary School.
The draft recommendation was presented to trustees and the public Thursday evening by the Superintendent of Schools Rollie Koop and Secretary Treasurer Erica Bailey. If the recommendations are given the green light by trustees tonight at the regular board meeting (7 p.m., Parksville city council chambers), a 90-day public consultation period will start. The earliest a motion would be passed to act on the recommendations would be April 29 and changes could occur in the district by September 2014, although district staff said Thursday that would be tight.
The plan would save an estimated $1,230,000 annually and gain 19 per cent in facility utilization. Currently, the district is facing a $3.6 million budget deficit over the next five years, a substantial underutilization of district schools, and a declining enrolment that isn’t expected to reverse for at least 10 years.
Members of the public were allowed to pose questions at the Thursday night meeting but not give comments. Anna Sjoo’s children currently go to Qualicum Beach Elementary School and she said it’s important to retain that school which is the heart of the community.
“Children can walk anywhere, they can be with the seniors, they can learn anywhere in the community within walking distance. In this proposal you’re putting them in Qualicum Beach Middle School where it’s 4.3 kilometers (away) but then cutting access to the community.”
Sjoo said there are families who want to move into Qualicum Beach, like herself, and they want their kids to go to QBES. Her question was whether the administration staff had considered the idea of community learning, which is so evident at QBES.
Koop said he didn’t disagree with her but there are also a host of advantages to children attending Qualicum Beach Middle School, which is a newer facility, he said.
“I think we have some models out there where it’s not the placement of the building that governs whether or not they are community-based experiences, it’s the creativity and resourcefulness of the teachers who are there and the parent community that supports that.”
Qualicum Beach Elementary School is in the worst condition in the district, according to the Facility Condition Index, a benchmark the province uses to compare the relative condition of schools. This is because it has $3 million in deferred maintenance costs needed to be done, it has the highest operating costs because of its age and lack of energy efficient features, and there’s no fire suppression system, which is true of the other elementary schools slated for closing as well, Koop said. The majority of students at QBES get dropped off or ride a bus, which suggests transportation to QBMS wouldn’t cause too much hardships for those families, Koop said. He added that 40 per cent of students at QBES come from different catchment areas.
Qualicum Beach Mayor Teunis Westbroek echoed Sjoo’s support for keeping QBES open and asked why the board of education doesn’t close middle schools instead.
“For me, personally, I feel (QBES) is part of the heart of our community and so my question is are there other values other than just costs and deferred savings?”
Westbroek asked where the school board plans on finding the rest of the $2.4 million to make up its shortfall over five years, and suggested he might give some alternative scenarios where more money could be found.
Koop said that his administration team believes the programs at QBES like Munchkinland, Storybook Village and the Alphabet Garden are community assets and therefore they want to explore some other uses at that site that could keep those resources available to the public. If school facilities are sold the district gets to use 25 per cent for capital costs of its choosing and ministerial permission would need to be made for the board to spend the remaining 75 per cent. But facilities don’t necessarily need to be sold, Bailey said.
David Osborn, a district counsellor who has worked in the area since the late 1970s, said he respectfully disagrees with the option chosen by the administration staff. He said he and other middle school educators in the district were excited about a different option that was being considered by community members at recent meetings where schools would be reconfigured to include middle schools with grades 4 through 7.
“And I know there are elementary educators excited about primary elementary where we can focus on play and social development, where we could come in line more with the B.C. learning plan.”
He asked if the model of K-7 and Grades 8-12 was a fait accompli or if there was still a possibility of exploring the idea of keeping middle schools alive.
Koop said if trustees vote to pass a motion to act on the recommendations in April, they will enter into a 90-public consultation period beginning next week, with an open mind.
“We still have the latitude, you still have the latitude to shape the trustees perspective through that 90-day consultation period,” said Koop.
The plan Koop and Bailey presented has PASS/Woodwinds relocating to the former Board Office at the Family Place Site and False Bay Elementary school running K-9.
WHERE THEY WILL GO
Students from French Creek Community School would be relocated to either Errington Elementary or the Qualicum Beach Middle School site (which would both be K-7) and students from Parksville Elementary School would be relocated to Springwood Middle School, which would have dual track French Immersion K-7. Students from Qualicum Beach Elementary School would be relocated to the Qualicum Beach Middle School site or Arrowview Elementary School (both which would become K-7) and students from Winchelsea Elementary School would relocate to Oceanside, Springwood or Arrowview schools. Provisions would be made to keep students from having to go back to elementary school if they are already in a middle school. Koop cleared up a misconception that classes would be cramped, instead all the teachers would move with the students, keeping class sizes the same as they are currently but filling up underused schools with students and teachers.
Comments can be emailed to the school board at firstname.lastname@example.org.