Public consultation about closing a school in Port Alberni is over and all that remains in the final decision.
School District 70’s final public engagement session was held at Wood Elementary School on Thursday night before a crowd of more than 100 parents and supporters.
School District 70 is considering closing either Wood and or Gill school in an effort to deal with lower enrollment, as well as increased transportation and downloaded costs.
Wood is located above the tsunami zone, can hook up to the city’s district energy regime if it’s hatched, and as a single-level building is better suited for handicapped access, resident Carolyn Jasken said.
If Wood is closed and VAST moved in then what are the costs to prepare VAST for that, Jasken asked. Superintendent Cam Pinkerton replied the district’s maintenance department estimated $10,000.
VAST has been located where it is for 10 years and there has been no vandalism, Pinkerton said. Students would likely do the same thing if the school was moved to Wood, he added.
District officials looked at school reconfiguration scenarios as a solution but it doesn’t work in the short term, Pinkerton said. The district looked at a Grades K-7 and Grades 8-12 regime but doing this requires fewer students and two other school would have to be closed to accommodate it, he said. The idea still may be considered in the future, Pinkerton added.
School board chair Larry Ransom broached the Gill closure scenario saying Gill students would be absorbed into Alberni and Wood Elementary schools. Some 400 students may not necessarily be displaced as has been speculated but Ransom didn’t elaborate how this could be accomplished.
There are 205 students who live in Wood’s catchment area but only 150 attend the school. Fifty-one students who live in the area attend schools other than French immersion, Pinkerton said.
Eliminating three positions and administrative redundancies at the school board office would help keep a school open, DPAC chair Maggie O’Niel said. “Why can’t you just suck it up and find the money?”
At Tuesday’s Gill school meeting, Pinkerton said that the school board office already cut more than $300,000 from its admin budget and has the smallest administration of any district its size.
The district could save $85,000 by going to a two-week spring break, Alberni PAC Chair Cathy Braiden said. “It’s not $300,000 but it’s a start,” she said.
The district examined the idea before but were lobbied hard by union interests not to go that route, Ransom said. “If they came to us now we’d be willing to talk,” he said.
Trustees are set to make their decision on Feb.12.