Numbers don’t add up in on-going school debate

Do the number of kids in Rossland justify the need to keep Rossland Secondary School open?

Farley Mowatt called his memoir about the Second World War’s brutal Italian campaign “And No Birds Sang.”

Spending a few evenings making kettle popcorn on Sunningdale’s main thoroughfare could be titled “And No Children Rang.” It’s as if a neutron bomb went off in the pleasant Trail subdivision and took only the kids, leaving the rest of the inhabitants and their houses intact.

The aroma of cooking popcorn and caramelizing sugar wafting down Hazlewood Drive attracted numerous adults interested in what the Rotarian cornballs were up to.

In Sunningdale’s early days, throngs of little curious flowers would also have appeared riding bikes, pulling wagons, and carrying balls and skipping ropes. Where have all the flowers gone? Gone to changing times, just about every one.

We did see one cute little boy in the yard across the street. But with no others around, he was reduced to tossing a frisbee with his picture-perfect mother. It was a sight both sweet and sad to contemplate as we churned out our sugar-and-salt-laced bags of treats for an upcoming event.

Driving back down Hazlewood at he end of the evening I checked the sign to see if it read Sunset Acres, but Sunningdale has not been turned into a restricted retirement community. It just looks that way, as do many other neighbourhoods in Greater Trail.

In a similar vein, I was taken aback when I opened the Times recently to discover that the grad class at Rossland Secondary consisted of 44 students this year. Back in the day that was about the size of one classroom of students, not an entire grade level at a high school.

I have not been among the pack of Trailites howling for the closure of Rossland Secondary. It is an excellent school with ferocious community support.  In addition to providing benefits to Rosslanders and many of my fellow Warfielders, it has also served an alternative for secondary students in the rest of the south end of the school district.

Most parents are all for choices (beyond differing courses options within the same institution) and RSS provided that important role within reasonable busing distance.

But you have to wonder whether these numbers are, to use a word popular in Rossland, sustainable.

There are models that could continue to provide RSS students with the courses they need to prepare them for a range of post-secondary options, while being fair to the rest of the district in terms of its demands on the global budget.

But with neighbourhoods like Sunningdale feeding J. Lloyd Crowe there will still be a call for consolidation in order to sustain the traditional classroom model and course offerings at the East Trail school.

I ran into a Rossland couple a few months back that I hadn’t talked to in some time. Their children are grown and prospering, but they remain keenly interested in RSS, as they do in all issues pertaining to their beloved Rossland.

When the conversation turned to the future of RSS they were unequivocal: the high school should be closed. Trail is a short bus ride away, Rossland students would benefit from breaking out of their cocoons earlier, and a consolidated high school would sustain core course offerings as well provide more optional instruction.

This was nothing that hadn’t been heard before, even occasionally from a Rosslander. But they lowered their voices when they said it, noting they couldn’t publicly say such a thing. To do so would risk being strung up from the nearest chairlift tower.

As another school year ends and we enter a too-brief summer snooze before the hand-wringing over the state of the school district’s finances renews itself as the leaves start to turn again, it is time to put old orthodoxies aside.

Snarling advocates for closure down in the valley and those up in the clouds chanting our children and town will die without RSS, both miss the mark.

There is no perfect and indisputably right decision about the future of schools in Trail anymore than there is about any number of public policy issues from patching potholes to going to the moon.

What is called for is reasonable debate and disagreement before our elected officials have to knuckle down and make a decision. No wonder there is such a rush to sign up for school trustee elections every three years.

Raymond Masleck is a retired Trail Times reporter.