School District 70 trustees have voted to close two Alberni Valley elementary schools and see all others retain their current configurations.
Trustees voted 4-3 to close Gill and Eighth Avenue elementary schools in September. VAST will move to Eighth Avenue. Wood Elementary School—which many parents feared would also be on the chopping block—will remain open. Middle schools will remain.
SD 70 chair Larry Ransom later said that this scenario had never been brought to the public nor cost estimated by district staff.
“This is not a magic bullet, there is still work to be done,” said trustee John Bennie, who moved the motion to close Gill and Eighth Avenue. “But this gets us on the way to the K-7, 8-12 goal.”
The move accomplishes several things, Bennie said. Savings are realized with the closing of two schools. ADSS is spared an influx of Grade 8s, which it can’t accommodate. The district saves on the VAST lease as well. And savings will also be realized with a two-week spring break approved by trustees earlier in the meeting.
But not closing Wood elementary was front and centre in Bennie’s move. “I learned two things last year: don’t close Wood school, and not to move French Immersion at Alberni elementary,” he said.
Wood is the last elementary school in the city centre and has a population that is best served by leaving Wood open, he said. As well, Wood students benefit from all the things that SD70 staff said students at the new ADSS would benefit from: proximity to the pool, Bob Dailey Stadium and the museum.
Trustee Gurmail Aujla questioned the move’s rationale, saying it’s not like students are losing out; it’s just a different group of students who are benefitting.
“I’m not prepared to close Wood School. It’s the hill I’m prepared to die on. It’s a deal breaker or a deal maker,” Bennie said.
Aujla also asked if Bennie had costed out his scenario. Bennie reiterated that there was still work to be done. Ransom later confirmed that staff will work on cost and logistic estimates which will be brought back to the next meeting.
Bennie’s scenario was the most palatable of all scenarios, trustee Rosemarie Buchanan said. “We have been dealt a very poor hand by the government that is supposed to support us,” she said. “(Bennie’s) option will get us on the road. We’ll adjust spending for next year. And we can look at other options if we have to.”
Trustee Pam Craig spoke against Bennie’s option, saying the first option that saw Wood and Gill closed and Eighth Avenue repurposed made the most sense financially. “We may have to look at deeper cuts during the budget process in order to use every dollar we’re allocated.”
Trustee Gaelle Frey said she seconded Bennie’s motion because she believed the district could still realize enough savings through it. “But this is huge,” she said.
The vote shocked members of the audience, and some district staff members as well. “Will the students fit with this scenario?” asked student support services head Vera Kaiser. “We just voted for a scenario that we don’t know will work.”
One audience member called passing a motion without due diligence “shocking, inappropriate and frustrating.”
All the scenarios that the district brought to the public were terrible, audience member Chris Alemany said. But Bennie’s scenario should have been brought to the public with more numbers earlier, he added.
Trustees have to bear the cross for not bringing more options to the table earlier, Ransom said. “Other trustees never supported other scenarios.”
Bennie’s scenario was brought to the public. “It was part of the process in scenarios we did. It was on the web and in public meetings,” Frey said. “It wasn’t something that was just brought up now.”
This board voted to pass the motion but the next may have to live with the fallout. “The next board will have further discussions of what might happen farther down the road,” Ransom said.