More required than simple ‘no’ to K-12

"...it reminded me of the line from the “Ballad of Jesse James” about the 'dirty little coward that shot Mr. Howard.'”

When the school board wrote off K-12 education in Rossland Secondary without comment on Monday, it reminded me of the line from the “Ballad of Jesse James” about the “dirty little coward that shot Mr. Howard.”

The 19th Century outlaw was famously shot in the back, while Rosslanders should have seen the potential end of their beloved high school coming. One man at last month’s public meeting recalled talk of closing RSS when he was a student in the 1960s.

But after all of the consultation the district has engaged in and the effort the community has put into making its case for a full-grade complement, something more than a no-vote by six of the nine trustees to a non-debatable first reading of a bylaw would have been fitting. Rosslanders have had ample opportunity to talk, but we don’t know whether trustees actually listened to them.

Where is the rationale? Perhaps it will come out in the process of trustees deciding which grades will remain in Rossland, which will occur later this month.

Listening, of course, is not the same as agreeing and no reasons for the trustees decision would have satisfied the bulk of Rosslanders. But at this point there is no evidence that the ample arguments put forward about avoiding overcrowded schools, wasting time on buses and alternative programs to make K-12 work have been considered.

Rosslanders have a vision for their community that includes comprehensive public education within their little mountain paradise.

The trustees vision seems to extend only as far as a horizon of portable classrooms crowding school grounds.

At the same time, when the eyes of Rosslanders mist up and their stomachs churn at the thought of losing their cherished high school, reason does seem to dissipate. The notion that the province would hive off Rossland from the Kootenay-Columbia school district to create a pocket district to satisfy the conscientious objectors up the hill is preposterous.

There is also the option of attempting to start a private school with the 50-cent dollars the province provides for those institutions or home schooling students. But a community of 3,500 people with English, French and private school systems does seem a stretch. As for home schooling, if kids sitting around the kitchen table or in a study group at the library every day is your alternative vision for secondary education in Rossland, then that is your prerogative.

The rest of the Rossland Secondary School cohort will survive or even flourish down the hill in Trail, depending on their means and the effort they put into their education. In a few years, many will be leaving Rossland, most of them for good, and a few years of schooling in a bigger and a bit more diverse institution might do them some good.

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The federal Electoral Boundaries Commission has listened to at least some of the arguments of local leaders and voters. While the commission has not heeded their desire to keep the West Kootenay together in one riding, at least Greater Trail will not be carved up.

The proposed new riding of South Okanagan-West Kootenay does not include Kaslo, Nelson and Salmo, which would be part of the vast Kootenay-Columbia riding, if Parliament accepts the recommendation.

Federal boundary commissions in each province are required, by law, to review the ridings after each decade, using new census figures to attempt to maintain some semblance of representation by population. Among the provinces, rep by pop is out the window as constitutional strictures mean that the citizens of dots on the map like Prince Edward Island are hugely over represented.

In British Columbia, the rural ridings have traditionally been over represented but this situation has slowly been reversed. With the latest recommendations, the majority of ridings in the Lower Mainland will have less people than the provincial average and all of them will have fewer inhabitants than the most populated ridings in the Interior.

This means that the members of Parliament from Hope to the Straight of Georgia will typically have less people to represent in vastly more compact ridings that are a direct flight away from Ottawa.

Representation by population is a fundamental principle. But communities of interest and avoiding representation by exhaustion should count for more than they would appear to in the deliberations of the commission.

Raymond Masleck is a retired Trail Times reporter.