School issues warrant debate, not division

On Jan. 12, , the School District 20 PAC (with representatives from Trail, Warfield, Rossland, and Castlegar present), discussed and exchanged ideas on how the board of education could work in a more cooperative and respectful fashion for the benefit of the entire district.

On Jan. 12, , the School District 20 PAC (with representatives from Trail, Warfield, Rossland, and Castlegar present), discussed and exchanged ideas on how the board of education could work in a more cooperative and respectful fashion for the benefit of the entire district.

On Jan. 18, a letter was delivered from the Webster PAC extending an olive branch to Rossland with a view to expanding on this, toning down rhetoric and talk of so-called division between communities, and inviting the exchange of ideas and a cooperative approach to addressing outstanding issues.

On Jan. 20, an article was published from the Glenmerry PAC supporting Castlegar PACs and addressing similar points.

The aforementioned steps were not taken in order to approve or reject any particular school configuration or facilities plan. They were done to encourage open and respectful dialogue and to demonstrate that there clearly remains a willingness among parents and community members to talk about school issues and to try and find solutions to outstanding problems.

Parents in every community empathize with the concerns of their neighbours. We all care about our children and are worried about their future education. If we have learned anything from the Planning for the Future process, it is that our communities are closely tied to one another and that any final decision will affect us all. No one community or school stands in isolation from the rest.

But we also have to be honest with one another and talk about issues in the open, without fear of personal reprisal or attack. There has been far too much talk in recent months about “division” or “hate” when describing the different views by parents and community members. Many parents have been discouraged from giving information, commenting on ideas, and making suggestions for fear that they will suffer these types of attacks.

What this district needs is more open discussion, not less. Debate should not be confused with division. We can respect one another, listen to ideas, passionately debate those ideas and even disagree, but still care about one another and respective communities.

These concerns have been especially true when dealing with arguments over the future of Rossland Secondary. This is arguably the biggest, but not the only, issue facing trustees in their current facilities planning process. RSS has 240 students in grades 8-12. Without the continued addition of elementary grades, this puts the school at under 46 per cent capacity.

There are also serious concerns involving operational costs at the school, what programs can continue to be offered on a long-term basis, whether the district will be able to afford the capital cost of repairs and renovations at RSS in the future, and whether SD 20 will need to purchase new land to accommodate a renovation or rebuild.

The Ministry of Education has also previously indicated it will not provide capital funding necessary to allow for a renovation or replacement of the school.

If this position does not change, this will continue to put further pressure on the district. Whatever decision is ultimately made, it will affect programs and facilities in the rest of the district for years to come.

In response to these issues, some groups are looking at new configurations, innovative ways of raising money, pursuing neighbourhoods of learning, or other initiatives. They should be given a full opportunity to do so. We need to respect the right of parents and communities to try and find solutions to outstanding problems.

But parents should also be offered the right to respectfully criticize plans that they do not believe are cost-effective, feasible, or in the best interests of the district. They also have the right to propose alternative possibilities. Just as some groups are arguing for K-12 at RSS and the closure of MacLean, so too should parents be able to argue that MacLean Elementary be preserved instead of RSS. They should be able to do so without allegations of “hating” or “picking on” Rossland, regardless of whether said proposals come from Rossland, Warfield, Trail or elsewhere.

Still others should be able to argue that neither school should close, or that there are other facilities like Trail Middle School or Blueberry that should be looked at, or that there are other options to be considered that do not involve any school closures.

The point is that parents and community members need to talk about these issues openly, on an informed basis, and free from rhetoric. All ideas should be heard, tested, and challenged where appropriate.

This should be invited, not discouraged. We need to show our children that we can debate these matters and even disagree, while at the same time showing respect and empathy for our neighbours. That is how solutions are found.

And we should demand numbers from the board of education and administrators. How much will it cost to run, maintain or repair particular facilities in coming years? Do we even have the capital funds to reconfigure certain schools and if so how much will this cost? How much capital and operational funds will we have left over for the rest of the district if certain plans are perfected? What will be the consequences? Will programs, services, renovations, or repairs be lost elsewhere? If so, where and how?

If we are being asked to make suggestions or provide feedback, we have the right to do so on a fully informed basis and with a clear picture of the consequences of implementing certain plans or allowing the status quo to continue. There is little point in figuring out these details after the fact.

In addition, the board of education needs to lead by example. Trustees need to demand the same information that the public is asking for. They need to respectfully and openly discuss and challenge ideas head on, following them through to their logical conclusion and determining if they are feasible.

To whatever extent, this discussion should take place publicly in open meetings rather than in closed session. We need to hear and understand where some trustees are coming from and why. They may have some good points to make, or they may be proceeding on mistaken assumptions that can be easily corrected.

Either way, there needs to be an open discussion among trustees and not the simple exchange of old entrenched positions that do not address current issues or underlying problems. If the public is prepared to engage in such a dialogue, then so should elected trustees.

Sheryl Moon, Glenmerry PAC; Mary De Vos, Fruitvale Elementary PAC; Cheryl Askew, Warfield, Robert Leggett, Castlegar