The residents and students in Rossland finally got an answer Tuesday night.
In front of approximately 200 people at the Rossland Secondary School gym, the School District 20 trustees voted unanimously, 9-0, to pass Option 2 – the kindergarten to Grade 9 option at RSS – to a third reading.
It also means MacLean School will be closed and Rossland students in grades 10 to 12 will be headed to Trail’s J.L. Crowe Secondary next year.
The other option presented – Option 3 the closing of RSS and expanding MacLean School to a K-7 configuration and sending grades 8 to 12 to Crowe – was prevented from moving to a third reading by an 8-1 count.
The next step in the process will be the third reading on Option 2 at the regular school board meeting on Feb. 25 at the Trail Middle School. Should it pass, the future of the vacant MacLean School will be explored by the board members.
Tuesday night, trustees presented their views on both options. It was quickly obvious, despite greater savings from closing RSS and moving students to MacLean and J.L. Crowe in Trail, that the importance of keeping as many grades as possible in Rossland weighed in the decision.
District chair Darrel Ganzert said it was great to finally be able to move beyond the facilities review stage and look forward at improving education in the district.
“I’ve been embroiled in this, both as a union president and a member of the board, for many years. I didn’t realize until (Tuesday) what a toll it’s taken on that aspect of our job as trustees.
“I think that’s the most positive thing that will come from this. Now we’re in a position that we can look forward and look to the innovative things that the public has presented to us.
“And finally, finally, leave the bickering behind.”
Rossland Mayor Greg Granstrom admitted the best choice for Rossland would be to keep K-12 in the city but was happy the board supported K-9 at RSS.
“Out of the two options that were there, it was absolutely the most positive one for Rossland.
“I still think it leaves room for Rossland and the school board to get together and do something unique. “It might not be the best decision for us but it certainly one that gives us hope.”
Following the vote, the floor was opened up to questions from the audience with many of the questioners reiterating their passion for RSS and questioning the reasoning behind dismissing K-12 in Rossland.
Perhaps the best viewpoint of the night came from trustee Gord Smith who opened with an impassioned speech acknowledging the efforts of the citizens of Rossland as well as the deliberation by the trustees before coming to their decision.
“I’m asking you all to dig deep,” he told the audience. “Get below the turbulent surface to a place of inner calm and resolve. To regroup and continue to advocate for the best possible outcome to help build this community.”
Trustees offered up their reasoning behind supporting one option over another. A couple of trustees admitted to wavering between the two options.
Trustee Toni Driutti expressed concerns over young students housed in RSS as well as student safety with a busy street so close to the school.
However, when the final vote was taken to advance Option 2 (K-9 at RSS and closing MacLean), she joined the rest of the board in unanimous approval. She was also the only trustee to vote to advance Option 3 (K-7 in MacLean and closing RSS) to a third reading.
Trustee Kim Mandoli related her experiences of watching Montrose Elementary close and students sent to Fruitvale. She explained that Montrose had no other schools to fall back on and yet rebounded.
“Quite frankly Montrose has risen above that and actually had an abundance of young families move in,” she said. “Looking back, Fruitvale Elementary has served us all very, very well. I can honestly say they have looked after us in a great fashion.”
Other trustees took the opportunity to present their reasoning for supporting the K-9 option, including Ganzert.
He added a sobering reminder to the board that the potential cost of demolishing a closed RSS could easily wipe out any planned savings under Option 3.
Following the vote to support Option 2, the discussion turned to Option 3, closing RSS and making MacLean School a K-7.
That was quickly shot down by Smith as he listed off the many negatives associated with moving students into an already filled-to-capacity school, adding portables, which must be adapted to Rossland winters, and renovating the century-old annex.
Much to the delight of the Rossland crowd, he admitted he was “perplexed” that the board was even considering the option.
Only Driutti expressed her support for the third option but in the end was out-voted 8-1.
Ganzert closed the voting portion of the meeting by explaining the board’s bylaw requires a third reading on the K-9 option, which will be held Feb. 25.
Ganzert wrapped up his comments by thanking the patient and passionate people of Rossland.
“I understand your passion. You have been an awesome audience. I know it’s a bitter pill to swallow. What I do know about our district is that we will make this work.”