School District 70 has quashed public discussion at school board meetings about a pending school closure in Port Alberni.
Board chair Larry Ransom made the announcement to more than 50 people Tuesday night.
School board meetings are not a public forum about school closures, he said. “We’re not going to allow the same level of questions that we did,” Ransom said about the last school board meeting at Maquinna School. “We will be limiting the number of questions about school closure.”
Instead, Ransom said the public will have a chance to address the issue at three public forums scheduled in February at Alberni Elementary, Wood School and Gill School. All three could be impacted by a closure, Ransom said.
Information about the process was scheduled to be released on Jan. 23 after the News deadline.
A final decision and vote about the closure will be carried out on either Feb. 12 or Feb. 26 at a public meeting.
A closure is coming and a process is now in place to carry it out, superintendent Cam Pinkerton said.
“We need to move forward in a way that makes sense, and allows the school district to meet its financial obligations,” he said.
The matter arose during Pinkerton’s presentation on the transportation facility review, which was outlined in the evening’s agenda.
After the meeting, Ransom agreed that people have the right to ask questions about agenda items during public question and answer period. But a process is in place now to address this specific matter, and with more of the public present, he said.
Creating an information vacuum until February is a gamble. “But we don’t want to upset the community any more than we have to,” Ransom said.
Shifting public discourse on school closure to a special public forum isn’t new, Ransom said. A similar process was used when the district closed five schools in the past, he said.
The board continues its due diligence in gathering information it will factor into closing a school. Officials are meeting with the city about population growth projections soon, he said.
Ransom was non-committal in response to an audience question about the possibility of a school not closing. “… don’t want to talk about it. We want to keep the process clean,” he said.
There’s a method to the madness of stifling debate at public meetings, audience member Darren Evans said after the meeting. “I think staff have ideas about how they want this to go and they don’t want the public involved,” Evans said.
Audience member Gayle Frey said that public input is appreciated. “But it’s what goes on behind closed doors that goes into this,”she said.
People are encouraged to give their input and then discouraged from giving input, Frey said. Nevertheless, she was cautiously optimistic about at least some questions being answered.
“You have to expect questions to be asked during public question period,” she said.