Students should only have to cram for exams

"The latest round of agonizing over how many and which schools the district needs has been going on since the fall of 2008."

Will 2013 be the year that the school board finally decides whether to close Rossland Secondary? Stranger things have happened, but then, where local politics are concerned, stranger things are always happening.

The board is holding a public meeting on Tuesday night at RSS to review the options for reconfiguring and closing Rossland schools. Trustees are  slated to debate and vote on the issue next month.

The latest round of agonizing over how many and which schools the district needs has been going on since the fall of 2008. That means that students who started Grade 8 that fall will graduate before any decision, even if ratified next month, is implemented.

The United States required less time, after joining the Second World War, to build a few hundred thousand planes, mobilize and deploy 15 million men, conceive and execute a nuclear weapons program, and then bring everybody home.

But the world was simpler in those days. When I was a child in the 1960s, my neighbourhood school was reconfigured four times within a decade to deal with the pressures of the baby boom. When the authorities wanted to make a change, they sent a notice home telling the parents of affected students where they could catch the bus to their new school come September.

Enrolment in local schools has been mostly declining since the last of the baby boomers graduated and Cominco started reconfiguring its operations three decades ago. Although enrolment has now stabilized and is projected to start rising in a few years, provincial funding has not.

The province has been supplementing per student grants with additional funding for districts that were experiencing enrolment declines. With this program being phased out, the district is projecting a shortfall of more than $2 million annually in four years.

The estimated savings from the three options for change in Rossland range from $145,000 a year for closing MacLean Elementary and making RSS K-12  to $455,000 a year if RSS is closed and Grades 8-12 are bused to Trail. (The medium-savings option would see RRS converted into a K-9 school.)

The difference in cost reductions among the proposals doesn’t amount to much more than a rounding error on an annual budget of $40 million. And even with an additional $170,000 saved if Castlegar Primary was axed, closing RSS would still leave the operating budget a long way from balanced over the next four years, according to the projections.

But surely there is a better way of doing things than closing another school only to install portables, which would be the case at both MacLean and J. Lloyd Crowe if RSS were to go. Housing kids in tin cans on the playground is one thing when it’s to deal with rapidly increasing enrolment. But after all these years of watching the controversy and moving vans, it still seems ludicrous locally.

Having two secondary schools in the community so parents and students have a choice is a good thing. Rosslanders seem to overwhelming want a K-12 option in their community. With the new technology available  and the education models being discussed in Rossland, why can’t it be made to work within the constraints of the budget?

The background information provided by the district mostly talks about building costs, but the big expense in education is teachers. If pupil-teacher ratios at RSS can be brought up to the norm for the district using an education model in which students work more independently, in a full building, while achieving better than average academic results, why would you want to close the school and bus kids 10 kilometres to Trail?

The Neighbourhood of Learning committee in Rossland points out that the Kootenay Columbia district has closed the most schools in the province on a percentage basis while being only 15th on the list of fastest shrinking districts in terms of enrolment.

Having lost the debate for a bigger school building a decade ago, would J. Lloyd Crowe Secondary – which has lost eight schools from its catchment area over the past three decades compared to one for RSS – benefit from an extra 200 students coming down the hill? The school might be able to offer a few more courses, but overcrowded schools are generally viewed as a negative not an accomplishment.

So it’s up to the angels, those nine much-maligned souls who serve as trustees, to make a decision. I considered running for the board when I retired two years ago but decided, “who needs it.”

Raymond Masleck is a former Trail Times reporter who covered the school district for most of his 30 years on the job.