A deficit budget and declining enrolment are forcing the Alberni Valley School District to look at closing multiple schools and reconfiguring grades in the next two years.
Superintendent Cam Pinkerton laid out the dire picture at Tuesday’s school board meeting.
The district needs to find $800,000 in savings to compensate for declining enrolment, as well as increased Hydro costs and wage increases.
Declining enrolment and subsequent per-student funding is also a factor forcing the move, Pinkerton said. The district has 1,300 fewer students now than it did when it last closed schools in 2003 — the equivalent of 53 classrooms.
Trustees decided Tuesday to come up with a plan that could see some Alberni Valley schools closed and the rest reconfigured to K-7 and 8-12 models. The plan is to be brought back to trustees for discussion and adoption at their meeting in March.
Even if adopted, school can’t be re-configured next year but would be phased in some time in the near future, Pinkerton said.
The plan will be unveiled to the public in a series of guided discussions to be held at Alberni District Secondary School starting next week, Pinkerton said.
Town hall meetings won’t be held at different schools like last year.
“We want to avoid pitting schools against one another like we saw last year,” he said.
The district voted not to close schools in 2013. “But anything we didn’t do will be compounded,” Pinkerton said. “Next year we need to do something.”
The district has cut programs and services and reduced staffing. “Do we continue to cut programs and services or do we look at facilities,” Pinkerton said.
After the meeting, Pinkerton said the district’s surplus is depleted and programs and services have been cut to the bone.
“We’ll be into the bone soon,” he said.
Re-configuration will save the district $1.5 million annually, Pinkerton said.
When asked if the high school can absorb Grades 7-8, Pinkerton said yes; enrolment is expected to decline by 200 students over the next two years.
Other configurations were examined but K-7 and 8-12 best fit the Valley by balancing out North and South Port, he said.
No scenario is being discounted, he added.
“The elementary schools are being looked at and the board office is on the table.”
One theory he discussed with the News after the meeting was moving elementary school students into the two middle school facilities: AW Neill and EJ Dunn.
That type of scenario could see some of the schools re-purposed and held in reserve if the Valley sees an economic or population upswing, Pinkerton said.
The linchpin in the plan will be how many students can be fit into the middle schools, Alberni District Teachers’ Union president Ken Zydyk said.
The district should think long and hard about displacing the middle-school model because it’s been successful, Zydyk said. “But the school district is in a very tough financial situation here.”
Alberni Valley isn’t the only district facing school closures. Trustees in Parksville passed a motion Monday that could see four elementary schools closed in that district by the end of the school year.