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Alberni trustees talk school closure

School District 70 may be forced to close another school in the Alberni Valley next year.

District Superintendent Cam Pinkerton said Tuesday that increased costs without correlating revenue will trigger the decision.

“It's crunch time for us in the next year or two,” trustee chair Larry Ransom said. “I don't want to sugarcoat it — it's not going to be an easy process.”

In his presentation, Pinkerton said that the district is facing increased cost pressures on two fronts: transportation funding and teachers' pensions.

On the transportation front, the government act that once compelled school districts to provide bus services has been removed along with its previous funding formula. The result is that the district's transportation funding will be reduced by $720,000 over the next three years, Pinkerton said.

As well, teachers' pension plan premiums are increasing by $250,000 in 2013. The increase was warranted after a recent valuation showed that the plan was only 96 per cent funded.

And the district contingency fund which was built with proceeds from past school closures is now depleted.

The result is a $1.22 million loss in revenue.

The district is considering several options including reviewing staff and service levels. Other options being looked include altering the school calendar year, reducing transportation costs and increasing international education revenue, which will take time, Pinkerton added. These measures will save the district $1.26 million.

Chief among the other options are not renewing the $110,000/year VAST lease, and closing an elementary school, which is expected to save the district $300,000 per year. “I think we can do it and we have a process,” Pinkerton said.

The Valley has six elementary schools: Alberni, Eighth Avenue, Gill, John Howitt, Maquinna and Wood.

Alberni District Teachers' Union President Ken Zydyk clarified that the teachers pension issue was separate from the other cost pressures. Further, that Pinkerton's report was based on transportation cuts and the expire of the VAST lease.

Pinkerton didn't specify a school, but said that if the option of closing a school is chosen then it should be done before the first board meeting in May, Pinkerton said. “Doing it quickly allows parents to plan for it,” he added.

The district won't be left suddenly scrambling to make up the shortfall. A special funding protection measure is set to kick in when the district's enrollment drops by more than two per cent. The district will retain 98 per cent of its funding through the arrangement but only for three years.

Pinkerton has already discussed the issue with CUPE and ADTU representatives and sent information to other groups.

His next step is to create a district steering committee made up of admin/teachers/CUPE/aboriginal and trustee representatives. Community consultations are slated to start in December.

reporter@albernivalleynews.com

Twitter.com/AlberniNews

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