SD70: trustees reverse decision on Alberni school closures

Lawyer's advice forces School District 70 trustees to rescind motion that would have closed two schools and re-purposed another in September

School District 70 trustees have hit the re-set button and started the school closure and reconfiguration process again.

Trustees voted unanimously on Tuesday before a crowd of more than 80 people to rescind the motion that was made on March 11 that would have seen Gill Elementary close, Eighth Avenue repurposed (to house VAST), Wood Elementary remain open and all other schools retain their current configurations.

Instead, school board chair Larry Ransom clarified, no schools will be closed or re-configured in 2014.

“Staff failed to provide us with timely information that we required. And the board failed to ask the right questions,” Ransom said. “The public bears the brunt of it.”

Staff will work on a new process. As well, they will be looking at enrolment numbers in the fall. And they will be updating the district’s school closure policy.

The district’s goal was to minimize disruption, “and everyone knows where their kids will be going to school,” in September, SD70 superintendent Cam Pinkerton said.

Trustees consulted with a lawyer who pointed out that there were problems with the March 11 motion.

After the meeting, Ransom clarified that one of the problems was procedural.

A closure and reconfiguration requires a bylaw and the board was operating on the premise of a motion. As well, the board was operating according to SD70 closure procedures from 2002, when it last closed schools. The Ministry of Education updated its closure procedure in 2008; the old district policy was incongruent with the new provincial policy and therefore invalid.

And there was also a problem with closure scenarios that were fronted during the public process last February, Ransom said. “The public wasn’t offered enough scenarios in advance. There should have been more scenarios presented.”

The district’s budget process must be concluded by May 31, and the district must present a balanced budget—school boards in B.C. are not permitted to run with deficit budgets.

Pinkerton has said repeatedly that the district must cut $800,000 this year in order to balance the budget. He said as well that services and staffing levels couldn’t be cut any further than they have been.

Pinkerton has also said the district has a funding protection cushion from the provincial government due to its declining enrolment, but not for much longer.

“Staff has assured me that the budget will be balanced this year,” Ransom said. “We can’t say yet how that will impact services and staffing.”

reporter@albernivalleynews.com

Twitter.com/AlberniNews

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