“How does a community come together with one opportunity, to bring together all these sporadic ideas?”
That was one woman’s summation of a passionate meeting of concerned citizens looking to save Qualicum Beach Elementary School (QBES).
Almost 50 people attended the meeting Tuesday night at the Qualicum Beach Civic Centre to hear a presentation on the community school model and discuss options to save the school.
The school is one of four that could be closed in a plan recommended by School District 69 (Qualicum) staff to move to a K-7 and grade 8-12 model, eliminating middle schools.
Staff estimates the change would save the district $1.2 million of a projected $3.5 million annual operating deficit.
“Cowichan has closed 11 schools since 2002 and will be closing six more, and like someone else said there are 250 schools closing across B.C.,” said board chair Lynette Kershaw, adding “we’ve been very, very lucky.”
She laid out some of the financial realties the board is facing, giving the example that eliminating busing completely would only save $1.7 million of their annual shortfall.
While she stressed that the board has not made any decisions and is open to all ideas, “at the end of the day…something has to be done.”
“I’m convinced we have to close schools and we have to close schools now,” said trustee Ross Milligan, who arrived late with Kershaw from another meeting.
Despite the dire warning, the meeting was full of optimism that ideas like creating community schools — which get more extensive community use and involvement — could save schools.
The group, led by Anne Skipsey and Anna Sjoo, focused on QBES as “the heart of the community,” including presentations demonstrating that closing Qualicum Beach Middle School would save more money and have less negative impact on the town.
Proposed ideas included crowd source funding, P3s (public private partnerships), making it a ‘school of excellence,’ looking at alternative transportation, going green, bringing in more international students and exploring alternate uses for the school land like subdividing off sections for development.
One long-time local educator made an impassioned plea to consider the value of the middle school model in education and others brought up points about the lack of long term thinking and big picture planning pointing out the school closure plan doesn’t save the money needed.
Qualicum Beach town Coun. Bill Luchtmeijer gave a spirited defence of the board of trustees pointing out they are facing some impossible decisions, but they are elected, local representatives that could be replaced by a provincially appointed trustee if they don’t balance the budget.
The main theme that did come out of the various ideas was that people would like more time than the current 90 day consultation period, ending April 29. For more on the organizing group, including a petition, visit SaveQBES.com, for more on the district wide process click on the Facilities Review link on the right at www.sd69.bc.ca.