Rosslanders show up in force to save RSS

School district hosts second
of three public meetings in
Castlegar, Rossland and Trail

A capacity crowd turned out at Rossland Secondary School Wednesday to voice concerns over the recommended school closure.

Almost 200 people attended the second of three “planning for the future” workshops, a public consultation forum to help the board of education determine budget priorities for School District 20.

About 25 Castlegar residents showed at a meeting there on Tuesday evening and another meeting was slated for Trail on Thursday               night.

The board made it clear that the facilities report released in September – that called for the closing of RSS – was only “one part” of the process.

With reduced enrolment, increased operating costs and uncertain funding, the district is looking for ways to save money and where to best apply the district’s $36-million budget.

“If things remain the same, we would need to make some changes because we could not continue forward as we were because our money and funding would be dropping by $1 million a year, and that was not sustainable,” said district superintendent Jean Borsa.

Residents were divided into 20 groups, with trustees and board members facilitating discussions and answering questions.

The groups were allotted 20 minutes for each of four questions, and then given time for feedback.

The first two questions referred to the facilities report and asked if any of the 18 recommendations were acceptable and if not, what alternatives were possible.

Respondents offered one option — keeping K-12 in Rossland.

“To close RSS you will lose more families and that will not only affect Rossland but the whole school district, so there will be less families that move to the area and possibly people that will leave the area because they want K-12 education in their back door; we have skiing in our back door, we want our kids in our back door,” said one mother.

The workshop model was humming along until the third question when attendees were asked to choose what was more important — facilities or educational learning programs.

The prospect of having to choose between a good education or a good school riled most in attendance to the point one resident encouraged all to boycott the question because it was a “false dilemma.”

Or, as the Kootenay-Columbia Teachers’ Union president put it, “It’s like asking me which arm you want to cut off.”

According to Andy Davidoff, the number of schools closed in the area — 15 since 1997 — is the highest number anywhere in the province.

“When you close a community school, you’re actually tearing the heart out of the community . . . quality programs and quality facilities everywhere is what we need.”

However, Borsa considered it a fair question as the board attempts to balance the needs of students, teachers, resources and staff with the demands of facilities and operations.

“That’s the conundrum, how do you slice and dice it so you can do all of that and do it well?” she said. “So it’s not either-or, we know we need both; when it comes down to the nitty-gritty we’ve got limited amounts of money – what do you do? It’s a tough question.”

The final query asked the groups to share the three most important things the board needs to consider when making its decisions regarding a facilities plan.

The groups reiterated their desire to save RSS for K-12 and suggested a variety of ways to save money including adopting the neighbourhoods of learning paradigm by sharing the school space with other community organizations, providing evening classes, partnering with industry and Selkirk College to provide trades and English-as-a-second language studies, supporting home-schooling and online learning, and even joining the Grand Forks school district.

Once information from the meetings in Rossland, Castlegar and Trail is processed and distilled, a facilities plan will be produced, said school board chair Gordon Smith.

“We’re going to have to get to a point where we say, ‘These are the changes, these are the configurations that we’re moving forward with, here’s a proposed time line,’ and I’m hoping that we can get to that level of detail by June.”