Rossland council eyeing other options to save K-12

The City of Rossland is preparing to deliver a financial offer to the district in order to keep five secondary school grades in the city.

The idea of the full spectrum of primary and secondary education in Rossland is not dead.

Despite School District 20 (SD20) board of trustees’ move to quash debate on kindergarten to Grade 12 remaining in the Golden City—after defeating a motion Monday night to keep it—there is a ray of hope.

The City of Rossland is preparing to deliver a financial offer to the district for consideration to cover the monetary gap needed to keep five secondary school grades in the city.

One day after the SD20 board meets in Rossland Tuesday night for the “debate” on school closures—along with second reading on the bylaws—Rossland city council will vote on a deal it can stomach before tossing a hook into the waters of partnership.

In its Jan. 28 meeting, Rossland city council directed city staff to flesh out options for a deal with SD20 that would involve the city and its citizens helping cover the difference in costs to keep the grades.

The four options are for $300,000 to be paid annually for a period of three years, for $300,000 to be paid for one year, for $140,000 to be paid for a period of three years (in one lump sum or annually), and $140,000 for one year.

The first option would incur a $94.57 rise in taxes per year (on an average assessed home value of $265,000) for residents, with a $161.71 rise for businesses. In all it would be a $200,340 tax levy for the year, but would be spread out over five years.

The second option would cause a $31.52 rise in residential taxes, $53.90 for business, for a $66,780 annual tax levy. The third option would hit the average homeowner with a $44.13 annual rise in taxes over five years, and $75.46 per year for businesses (a $93,492 annual levy).

The fourth option contained a $14.71 rise in residential taxes, $25.15 for businesses, for an annual tax levy of $31,164 over five years.

Although disappointed there will be no debate by the SD20 board Tuesday on keeping K-12 in Rossland, Rossland Mayor Greg Granstrom said the city needs to keep re-iterating to the SD20 board a willingness to work on a solution and a partnership.

With the city just starting budget deliberations, it has been difficult to put together a financial package to pitch to the board, he said.

“But we certainly heard loud and clear, unlike the school board, that keeping K-12 is very important to Rossland, so we’ll do whatever we can to maintain that,” Granstrom said.

Granstrom would not say if taxes would be raised, or if a plebiscite would be undertaken.

The options up for debate on Wednesday will present what the cost impacts to the city are, said Rossland deputy chief administrative officer Tracey Butler.

The city needed to show “that if we went to the Municipal Finance Authority and loaned $140,000 to the district, what that would look like on the average taxpayer’s bill as an increase,” she said.

“These things take time. We can’t just hand them a cheque for $300,000.”

The city will not have to go to a plebiscite for short term borrowing.

If a deal with the city is workable, the SD20 board has the ability to reverse a decision “if new information were to come forward from the City of Rossland,” said SD20 board chair Darrel Ganzert.

“Even after Feb. 25 and up until Sept. 1 we have that ability,” he said.

If agreed upon, the amount forthcoming to the district would be paid through city reserves—and then repaid to the reserves by borrowing over a decided period of time—through the alternative approval process or financed through the budget process, said Butler.

There is a $1.75 million budget deficit facing the district over the next three years. In closing two district schools, including Rossland’s secondary school, SD20 would only save $625,000, according to SD20 administration calculations.

Second reading will then take place Feb. 12 in Rossland (6:30 p.m., Rossland Secondary School gym) and Feb. 13 in Castlegar.

The board’s final decision dates on those motions will be completed by Feb. 28.

Starting in the fall of 2008 the district began a process of reviewing its facilities in light of declining enrolment and budgetary pressures. Various reports were generated and public meetings held, all focused on a variety of options and scenarios related to school configurations.

After the multiyear process the board stated in April of 2012 its intention to look at facilities specifically in relation to recon-figuration or possible closure in Rossland and in the Twin Rivers/ Castlegar Primary area of Castlegar.

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