School District 70 mulls school closure options

New information may have saved Wood Elementary School from closure—for now.

Sixty parents packed the library at Maquinna Elementary, where the school district meeting was held Tuesday night, to state emphatically that they don’t want their children’s school to close. School District 70 is considering closing Wood as an elementary school and moving the VAST program into the centrally-located facility.

“Everyone has been telling us to move out of Wood because VAST is moving there,” said Darren Evans, a parent with children at Wood, before the meeting. “But no decision has even been made yet.”

New information came to light this week that has school trustees rethinking such a move, School District 70 Superintendent Cam Pinkerton said. Pinkerton wouldn’t disclose what the new information was.

In a later interview, he spoke about “...getting out of, or not paying $110,000 for the VAST lease.” He also said the information involved an existing school district facility. “But I can’t comment any more about it,” Pinkerton said.

In his presentation, Pinkerton said that increased transportation cost pressures and declining enrollment were at the heart of the school closure talks.

The district’s transportation funding will be reduced by $800,000 over the next three years, he said. The district would save $410,000 annually by closing an elementary school and moving VAST into the vacated facility. “One school closure will take care of that in the long term,” trustee chair Larry Ransom said.

A special committee made up of SD70, teachers, DPAC, CUPE and parents is steering the process and examining options, Pinkerton said. And a public engagement process will be unfurled shortly, and a final decision about what school will be closed will be made by mid- to late February.

The committee looked at school reconfiguration that would see moving Grade 8s to ADSS. But that would exceed the high school’s capacity of 1,000 and therefore wouldn't work, Pinkerton said.

The library at the old ADSS on Burde Street is being left standing while the rest of the property will be demolished. But moving VAST there isn’t an option because there would be costs to hook up civic services, which were cut off when the high school closed in June, Pinkerton said.

Trustees said they would inquire into VAST students using space at North Island College.

Wood is the only elementary school left that is centrally located. The neighbourhood is populated with families. And there are no transportation costs to get kids to the pool, museum, library, multiplex or Bob Dailey Stadium, one parent said.

Another audience member asked trustees if they could confirm that Wood School won’t be closing.

No one would go that far, however, trustee John Bennie said he was offended that people assumed “this is a done deal”. “The fix isn’t in, not from this trustee,” Bennied added.

Ransom said he is on record saying he doesn’t want Wood closed. But as for not closing any school, “that would be very difficult to do.”

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