Residents rolled up their sleeves Thursday evening and made what some would consider rash decisions around the inevitable task of having to reconfigure, amalgamate and possibly close district schools.
“We’re facing a dire situation so we need to make some compromises,” said local parent Natanja Waddell, after agreeing it was a good idea to close Parksville Elementary School and relocate children to Springwood Middle School. In that scenario, Springwood Middle would become a dual track (offering both English and French Immersion programs) Kindergarten through Grade 7 school.
District staff, administration, parents and residents went table-to-table at the Oceanside Middle School library and commented on scenarios they thought would be the best. The facility review process is happening in order to deal with a $3.4 million budget deficit over the next five years, declining enrolment and a substantial underutilization of schools.
Tables were set up at the meeting with a number of possible scenarios on each, and Waddell was pouring over the paperwork at one that was dedicated to reconfiguring schools in the district to be Kindergarten through Grade 7 and Grade 8 through 12, which would eliminate middle schools. The combined middle school student population in the district has the highest excess capacity (the most free space at facilities) currently at 60 per cent utilization. The total elementary school student population is currently 68 per cent utilization and the combined secondary schools population sits at 71 per cent utilization. Ministry expectations are in the 90 to 95 per cent utilization range.
The Facility Condition Index is how the province rates the condition of schools, and Parksville Elementary, which is 103 years old, has one of the highest FCI factors, meaning the overall condition is one of the worst in the district. The FCI is calculated by looking at needed and outstanding repairs, required upgrades etc. and comparing them to the current replacement value of the building components. French Creek Community School, which is 102 years old, has also been measured as having one of the worst conditions, along with Winchelsea Elementary, Qualicum Beach Elementary and Ballenas Secondary.
The schools with the lowest FCI factor, or that are in the best condition, are Qualicum Beach Middle School, Springwood Middle School, Errington Elementary and Arrowview Elementary.
At the meeting Thursday, acting superintendent Rollie Koop presented 10 assumption statements that have been formed by conversations and meetings held surrounding the facility review since November. He also presented the support those assumptions received by staff, community members and residents at meetings held on Jan. 8 in both the afternoon and evening. There were 103 respondents to the assumptions, and the ones with the highest support included offering Kindergarten through Grade 12 in both the anchor communities of Parksville and Qualicum Beach. This assumption was reached early on in the process, Koop said.
“(Not offering) K to 12 in both communities, that was what sunk the consultant’s recommendation last time out,” Koop said, referring to a 2010 report that recommended closing Kwalikum Secondary School and was met with outrage by many community members.
Assumptions where respondents were fairly split included retaining Family Place, keeping the CEAP program at KSS, using the lowest FCI schools wherever possible, finding a central location for the French Immersion program and retaining small rural schools. There are five small rural schools in the district and each receives grant money. In the case of False Bay School on Lasqueti Island, the grant money received from the province is higher than the operating and office costs at that school, so it wouldn’t make sense to close some of these facilities that have grants tied to them, said Koop.
Residents who attended this Jan. 9 meeting at Oceanside Middle School had an opportunity to respond to the assumptions and the scenarios created at previous meetings. All the information gathered by the district at these facility review meetings will ultimately be used to form a recommendation of which a draft will be presented to the school board on Jan. 23 this year, and a final report on Jan. 28 at the Forum at the Parksville Civic and Technology Centre at 7 p.m.
Another idea that was discussed at length at Thursday night’s meeting was to relocate the PASS/Woodwinds program to another facility. Currently the district has a lease agreement for that facility with Vancouver Island University that costs $79,000 a year and the district is responsible for all the repair work needed.
Another scenario that was agreed upon by a number of people at the meeting was closing French Creek Community School and relocating students to Errington Elementary School. “FCES is old and not designed to meet contemporary education needs,” recorded one of the parents on a comment sheet.
To view all the presentations from the facility review meetings visit www.sd69.bc.ca and clink on Facility Review under Quick Links.