Port Alberni school board trustees have decided not to close an elementary school for the 2013-2014 school year.
Trustees voted unanimously at Tuesday’s trustee meeting before a crowd of more than 100 people at the Alberni District Secondary School theatre.
“This isn’t over. But we’ve bought some time to make a decision,” trustee chair Larry Ransom said.
Trustees didn’t shy away from making a tough decision, John Bennie said. “We made the best decision for the educational soundness of our district,” Bennie said. “We’re going to find another way. It’s important for the educational stability of our district.”
No detailed plan was laid out about how trustees will make up the $300,000 they would have saved by closing a school. The district is also still facing other cost pressures such as pension fund payment increases as well as replenishing the contingency fund.
The mandate for the meeting and the public process that was held the last few weeks was whether or not to close an elementary school and trustees have made that decision, Ransom said.
SD 70 has Ministry of Education funding protection that will preserve 98 per cent of the district’s funding next year, superintendent of schools Cam Pinkerton said. But the measure is temporary and he warned that trustees may end up in the position of considering school closure again next year.
Trustees will look at cost cutting and other scenarios during the district’s upcoming budget process, Pinkerton said. They have until the end of April to balance the books.
Whatever measures are taken they have to be concrete, trustee Rosemarie Buchanan said. “You don’t get funded by the Ministry of Education on hope,” she said.
District officials cast a broad stroke but provided no detail, Alberni District Teacher’s Union President Ken Zydyk said. “I’m surprised that there was such an open-ended process without focus,” he said.
Trustees should have come to the table with more answers tonight, DPAC spokesperson Julie Spencer said. “They have an obligation to provide details about how they came to the decision that they did.”
Listening to people in public engagement sessions gave trustees sober second thoughts about closing a school, Ransom said.
One factor that tipped the balance was the possible domino affect of closing a school. “Displacing so many kids was a big consideration. It just didn’t make sense in the end,” Ransom said after the meeting.
The provincial election is in May, and at least one parent wondered if trustees were hoping for breathing room if an NDP majority is elected.
“I’m not going to bank on it,” Ransom said. “Whatever provincial government is in power, they can only do so much with what money they have.”
If there was anything that could have been done differently it would have been getting the public involved sooner, Ransom said. “We could have engaged earlier, but the logistics of it just weren’t there at the time and we were tied up with the opening of the new ADSS,” Ransom said.
Wood school parent Jessie McKay says she’s “happy” but “optimistically cautious” at the announcement.
The process pitted parents and schools against one another, something the community needs to address, McKay said. “It caused a divide that hopefully we will heal from now,” McKay said. “Next time we need to band together and support one another sooner.”
The development was a victory for kids, but parents too should have learned something.
“Inform yourself, go to meetings and hold trustees accountable for the decisions they make that affect us,” said Gaelle Frey, a Wood school parent who is running for a seat on the school board in Saturday’s by-election.
“We set out to stop a school from being closed and we accomplished that.”