Bus grades 8-12 to JL Crowe: Trail forum

Residents provide school district feedback on budget priorities

Residents attending a school district planning session in Trail Thursday support a facility report that ranks closing Rossland Secondary School in all four of its best-case scenarios.

About 25 Greater Trail residents turned up for the community focus group meeting at the Crowe, where the support was expressed for keeping young kids in their own communities but sending older students to the new Crowe.

“I’m new to the area so I try to remove myself from the sort of Trail Rossland (rivalry) but the bus ride (from Rossland) isn’t that far and Fruitvale kids do it,” said Clare DeWitt, mother of two.

Trail city councillor Robert Cacchioni said the new Crowe is designed for up to 1,000 students and was built with the possibility of creating more classrooms and adding portables if enrolment moved up to full capacity.

There are about 750 kids who attend Crowe right now and if MacLean Elementary School in Rossland was to become a K-7 school, the remaining 300 RSS students would fit in the new Trail school.

“It’s difficult for the board, it’s difficult for anyone to make a decision but it doesn’t appear the government is going to have any more money anytime soon,” said Cacchioni.

The Planning for the Future process began a couple of years ago when it was noted that student enrolment in the Kootenay-Columbia school district had declined by 789 students — from 5,220 down to 4,431 in five years, according to the Ministry of Education.

Prior to the 2002/03 school year, districts received funding per square metre for the maintenance and operation of each school, regardless of enrolment.

But the following school year, the province started funding districts on a per-pupil basis, later adjusting the per-pupil funding, which created even more of a strain.

Feedback from previous public consultations provided School District 20 with 44 possible school configurations, in which 18 were approved for further analysis. The four highest-scoring configuration options were used to present a suggested facilities plan, which is now receiving further input during the smaller community meetings. Sessions were held in Castlegar, Rossland and Trail last week, with the lion’s share of attendees showing up for the Rossland event.

“At one point we were hearing that we need more information, now we’re hearing there’s too much information,” said district superintendent Jean Borsa

During the forum Thursday, residents were divided into small groups to look at a list of potential outcomes and decide which ones would work for the district. They were also asked to point out cuts that weren’t viewed as wise decisions, whether facilities or programs held more weight in a community, and to share the three most important aspects the school board needs to consider when making a final decision.

“Having my kids’ school in my neighbourhood makes a huge difference for my kids,” said district parent advisory council chair Lisa Stewart, while wrestling with whether a facility or programs are more valuable to students.

“How does a location of the building affect the actual quality of the program?” she asked. “Does that affect how much weight we put on a facility?”

While Stewart feels the planning process needs to be viewed through a district-wide lens, she said the board should evaluate each community’s needs separately.

“The board needs to consider equity as what makes sense, instead of how do you cut equally through all communities?” she said.

A lot has been presented on how much money could be saved by closing individual facilities – with $700,000 identified annually under potential draft plans – but Stewart feels not enough thought has been put into what positive will come out of reconfiguring the district.

While Rossland does thrive in some areas like the arts, Borsa pointed out that there are not enough students signed up for some elective classes and the school has resorted to offering some courses online.

Fruitvale Elementary School principal Brian Stefani said “kids are adaptable, adults aren’t,” siding with the concept of keeping youngsters in their own communities but sending older students to the Crowe, where their course selection would be maximized.

Other participants argued that inter-mingling area students is healthy  – adding that expanding a young person’s scope will only prepare him or her for post-secondary education and an independent life.

“I’m a Crowe grad. I don’t think it will be that big of a transition,” said Pat Price, a father of two. “Budgets are brought in and deadlines are due; as soon as possible, some of these hard decisions have to be made.”

Borsa said that determining future school configurations are much more complex than mere numbers and scores, but added that much attention has to be put to the budget, which is somewhat unpredictable.

Beyond declining district enrolment, full-day kindergarten continues to add pressure to the status quo.

While there is a surplus of kindergarten kids ready to walk the hallways next year, the additional $433,000 in district funding will actually cause problems for the budget.

The district will lose a large portion of money from the government, which was previously given in light of low enrolment, and will now have to pay for additional teaching staff.

Other concerns, such as what the annual facility grant will look like and an estimated $55,000 carbon footprint bill, leaves the district in an even tighter spot.

The school district will synthesize community responses from the three community forums and post it online (www.sd20.bc.ca), where residents are encouraged to add their two cents until the end of March.

A district-wide public summary meeting will be held soon, with details to come.