Renewed talk of school closures signals end of summer

A story about possible school closures confirms the grim reality that summer is at an end.

Just as the first robin sighting is a harbinger of spring, a story about possible school closures confirms the grim reality that summer is at an end.

While most people sadly watch as their gardens begin to fade and the long winter night advances with increasing speed, journalists are relieved. No longer are they forced to scour the streets looking for a bright kid with a lemonade stand to profile, or opine on their recent trip to Calgary.

The political circus is back in town as municipal councillors and school trustees resume their full schedule of meetings and public servants return from their lengthy vacations to start churning out reports on vital matters of public policy.

A lemonade stand? Come back when you’ve got a national franchise, kid, we’ve got more important things to write about.

Rosslanders have been pounded over the summer, with their main street being turned into a war zone. But while the city has been replacing the 100-year-old pipes below Columbia Avenue, the talk at the school board is again of doing away with one of Rossland’s long-established schools. The sewage keeps flowing, but the kids and the money are drying up.

There will soon be more reports on enrollment projections and building costs to pour over, and urgent arguments from parents and community leaders on the need to close or maintain Rossland Secondary. The difference will depend upon which local main street they are speaking for.

What has changed since this debate began a decade ago is the broader political landscape. When trustees began talking about closing RSS, the Liberals were newly elected provincially, and had displaced the New Democrats locally for the first time in decades.

Then premier Gordon Campbell’s government was in full slash-and-burn mode and, like most senior governments, in a  permanent election cycle, so the prospect of funding a larger replacement high school in Trail that would accommodate Rossland students in years to come was unattractive. Cutting spending and taxes immediately was the priority, based on the notion that the future would then take care of itself.

The politics also tilted in favour of not inflaming Rossland voters. While Castlegar and area has always voted staunchly New Democrat, Greater Trail was more promising electoral ground for the Liberals and the Social Credit coalition that they replaced.

Why inflame Rosslanders by backing a plan to close their beloved high school when the rest of the Trail could be placated with a smaller and cheaper, but at least new, replacement school?

History, as the old saw goes, has moved on, at least sort of. Then former Trail mayor Sandy Santori decided not to seek re-election after one term in provincial office when he realized that he was not constitutionally suited to being local front man for a government that always seemed to be bearing harsh news.

Placating Rosslanders didn’t prove any more of a winning strategy for the opponents of the New Democrats in Kootenay West than it had for their predecessors in West Kootenay-Boundary and Rossland-Trail, and the riding returned to the New Democrats. (Message to the powers that be: if you are really concerned about shrinking voter turnout, changing the name of electoral constituencies after every election, as well as slicing and dicing them, can’t possibly help the situation.)

Despite Liberal promises of prosperity in our time, British Columbia still has by far the highest unemployment rate in Western Canada, the forest industry has not been renewed, and the mining industry hasn’t boomed, or even burbled, despite booming prices over the past decade and a supposedly-investor-friendly government at the helm.

With Premier Christy Clark’s team in disarray and headed for all-but-certain defeat next spring according to the polls, the New Democrats don’t have to make any promises other than to not attempt anything too ludicrous.

School closures do still have to be approved by the province, so it is possible that the current government could put the kibosh on any decisions local trustees make. But given how dire the Liberals’ electoral prospects are in ridings they already hold, it seems unlikely they would be bothered about one they have little hope of winning even in normal political times.

So local trustees, parents, and other citizens are likely on their own in terms of the school closure debate, despite this being a provincial election year.

Raymond Masleck is a retired Trail Times reporter.

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