The long and painful process of closing a school in the Alberni Valley has started.
The first of three public information sessions regarding the pending closure was held at Alberni Elementary School on Tuesday night. Two more sessions were slated for Wednesday and Thursday after the News deadline.
“The bottom line is that we have to balance a budget by closing a school,”School District 70 trustee chair Larry Ransom told a crowd of 150-200 people.
“We realize that this is a tough decision. But we have to take the emotion out of this and do what’s best for the school district.”
A drop in the number of students in the district—as many as 1,000 since 2003—combined with cuts to transportation funding have led to the school closure.
Meetings were scheduled at Gill, Wood and Alberni Elementary schools because they will be most impacted by a closure decision.
Gill and Wood are considered for closure, a handout noted. Gill is the lowest ranked school in the district in terms of condition—it is in need of many repairs. Wood is considered because it’s a potential location for VAST.
The scenario spoken about most often involved closing Gill School and moving its students to Alberni Elementary.
John Howitt would absorb some Alberni students. Alberni French Immersion students would be moved to Maquinna, some students from which would be moved to Eighth Avenue School to accommodate them.
Wood students would be absorbed into Maquinna, Eighth Avenue and Alberni.
Moving French Immersion would be tricky. Not all students may move with it. No transportation is provided with the move.
“No English is taught for the first three years and this is also a huge concern to us,” Pinkerton said.
Port Alberni is another victim in the long line of communities that suffered school closures in the past decade, Alberni-Pacific Rim MLA Scott Fraser said in a telephone interview after the meeting.
“This has its roots in the Liberals changing the essential funding formula after they took office,” Fraser said. “More than 200 schools, most in rural areas, have closed since then.”
Teachers, students and families have called Fraser about the issue, and lately the tone has been school against school, he said. “These types of decisions are ripping the community apart and causing a great deal of hurt,” he said.
Fraser said he’ll try and raise the issue when the NDP caucus convenes next week and try to raise it in the provincial legislature during question period. He said the NDP may re-examine the funding formula if they take office after May's provincial election.
Trustees will announce their decision as early as Feb. 12 at a public meeting at the ADSS theatre.