Concerned parents attend a meeting organized by the Homelinks Parent Advisory Committee regarding the closure of the CEC. (Photo credit Lorne Eckersley)

Concerned parents attend a meeting organized by the Homelinks Parent Advisory Committee regarding the closure of the CEC. (Photo credit Lorne Eckersley)

CEC closure seems final

SD. 8 administrators and trustees offered no hope that the Creston Education Centre could remain open after June.

In a meeting hastily organized by the HomeLinks Parents Advisory Committee on Friday School District No. 8 administrators and trustees offered no hope that the Creston Education Centre could remain open after June.

Although no final decision has been made for the next HomeLinks location, parents were told it will be on the Prince Charles Secondary School property, either in the school itself or one of three others buildings, including the dormant former board office on Canyon Street at 16th Avenue.

“It will be beautiful,” Superintendent of Schools Christine Perkins told about 30 generally leary home-schooling parents.

In what could be a desperate last-minute rally, HomeLinks parents have put up an on-line petition in an attempt to convince the provincial government to intervene.

Trustees Rebecca Huscroft and Heather Suttie expressed their disappointment that no proposal to purchase and maintain the building for its current use has been received.

Huscroft said that the board of trustees had delayed the closure of CEC in the hope that an offer would come out of a committee that includes Valley Community Services, RDCK Area directors and the Town of Creston.

In turn, members of that committee have expressed frustration at the school district’s unwillingness to brainstorm or compromise, with one member saying a district demand for rent free use of the building after it sold for $550,000 left little room to maneuver.

“What we needed was to sit down in an informal setting without staff and hash out things as elected representatives,” Mayor Ron Toyota said on Monday. “Unfortunately, that has not happened.”

District secretary treasurer Kim Morris opened the meeting with an overview of the process undertaken to assess SD8 facilities, which she said started with a review in 2014. In fact, though, the facilities review grew out of earlier meetings to discuss the closure of CEC in which the previous secretary treasurer presented financial numbers that were derided as wildly inaccurate by stakeholder participants.

“They were listening to you and trying to find a compromise,” Morris said of the board of trustees’ role in the facilities review. She said there was “some back and forth” with some community partners but, with nothing concrete to work with, the board proceeded with the proposed closure of CEC.

“We’re not going to move you into something that doesn’t look good,” Perkins told parents, adding that the HomeLinks and Wildflower programs and other services are welcomed by all of the remaining four Creston Valley Schools that numbered eight only a few decades ago.

Services that have been delivered in CEC until now are being relocated to a hub in PCSS, and “17 groups from this community” are partnering in it, Perkins said.

“In October 2017 the board extended the closure in the hopes that a plan to save CEC would come to fruition,” Huscroft said. “It’s been transparent throughout the entire process.”

“To say that I am disappointed is an understatement,” Suttie said. “I had great hopes that CEC could remain in use, and I am disappointed that the process didn’t give the community what it wanted.”

She added that she had felt it necessary to recuse herself from parts of the building’s sale process due to a conflict of interest. Suttie works for the Lower Kootenay Band, which once expressed an interest in purchasing the property.

Questions from parents were varied, but they ranged in tone from frustration to anger to resignation.

Following the meeting, trustees Suttie, Huscroft and Cody Beebe provided written statements to the Advance.

SD8 Trustee Cody Beebe says:

I voted against the closer of the CEC and have been a supporter of the programs at the CEC always. I feel saddened that no offer was made by local leadership of the town or RDCK after near two years. Now that the boards deadline has been reached, I feel it my duty now to make sure students and staff have the best possible outcome from that decision. I will continue to keep students at the forefront of the decisionsmade.

SD8 Trustee Heather Suttie says:

As you attended the meeting at the CEC on Friday, you have heard the explanation for how the vote concerning the relocation of the programs from the CEC ended up being held in a closed meeting.

I am now in a position to be able to discuss my personal considerations and personal vote in respect to the transition of Homelinks and Wildflower to PCSS and the Strong Start program to ARES. I opposed the motion. But that by no means tells the whole story.

I am deeply disappointed that the dialogue between the School District and the community group organized through the Valley Community Services group has failed to put any options on the table for consideration that would allow the programing in the CEC building to remain on site. Although I hesitate to attribute blame to any party, I want to underscore the fact that the Board of Education has never received an offer from the Valley Community Services group which would transfer ownership of the building or shift the financial burden. As the trustee that spearheaded the effort to make the closure motion in the facility plan pending community partners coming forward, I believed that our community valued the facility enough to put skin in the game.

This disappointment aside, I am acutely aware of the value that the CEC brings to the students and young families in our community. I know how Homelinks and Wildflower provide learning environments for students and parents that wish something different than the traditional public school experience. I know the value of these and other programs for some of our most vulnerable learners. I am concerned about the lack of space within the remaining schools if our community sees future growth. I know the value of a community early learning hub. I understand the ownership that the community feels in this programing and the building.

At the meeting on January 23, 2018, I spoke of my concerns for the CEC students and their parents and the impact that the closure would have on them. I also spoke of a possible compromise, whereby Homelinks and Wildflower could find a home in the outbuildings surrounding PCSS. Ultimately I voted against transition of the programs out of the CEC building because I was not personally assured that the students currently attending the CEC would have a learning environment that would meet the needs of these unique families.

SD8 Rebecca Huscroft says:

The vote on January 23rd, 2018 was held in closed due to the fact that a community member requested to make a proposal to the Board with a potential offer. This is required of us legally when dealing with the a potential offer and sale. The original motion to close CEC if no partnership or transfer of burden can be made was done publicly in July 2016. This was done in a gymnasium full of public which included PAC members from CEC, staff of CEC along with a local Regional Director. In light of the fact that as of January 23, 2018 we were unable to transfer ownership I voted in favor of moving forward with this process.

This past summer local trustees along with SD8 Chair were invited to meet with local stakeholders to “hear how things were going regarding CEC.” At the meeting in July 2017 trustee Suttie was able to attend and reported back to the Board. In August 2017 the local trustees along with Board Chair Trenamen as well as the Superintendent are invited once again…”to see where in the process they are and are grateful for the opportunity to continue working together to transfer burden of CEC from SD8 to community.” Our staff was included in their invite, not requested by us. The working group was looking for very specific information from our Superintendent and Secretary Treasurer. These were by no means the only meetings that were held regarding this matter. Back in June 2016, prior to the Board adopting its facilities plan, the Board met in Nelson with all trustees, all Regional Directors of SD8, Town of Creston council as well as staff from ALL organizations.

Obviously I have much more to say on this matter as my husband and I chose Homelinks for our own children and we agree that this is a very valuable program. I firmly believe that this matter could’ve been handled differently had our local media done their job in reporting out ALL the facts and not excluding one party from all dialogue. It is incumbent on our journalists to deliver to the people of this community the entire story and not just cherry pick the sensational things spoken by only one side. To say that I’m not invested in the children of this community and their future is completely unfair as I’ve not had any prior opportunity to state my beliefs and where I stand on this issue. Instead I’m being asked after four weeks of one sided reporting to now join the conversation. The paper goes as far as to state that I have not done my job but this is a false accusation and one that cannot be backed up with facts. Had any reporter been in attendance at our Public meetings they would have had an opportunity to report on the entire story. I’m aware that this is a reasonable expectation as the media from other parts of our district never miss a meeting and always report the entire story, from the beginning. So in closing I sat that perhaps it is not me that shouldn’t be doing my job anymore.

Publisher’s note: The Advance does not cover school board meetings provided by remote video feed because it is often not possible to identify which trustee is speaking.