UPDATE: SD8 votes to close Yahk, Salmo, Creston and Nelson schools

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  • Jul. 12, 2016 4:00 p.m.
Trustees Bill Maslechko and Curtis Bendig debated and voted on SD8's final facilities plan on Tuesday evening.

Trustees Bill Maslechko and Curtis Bendig debated and voted on SD8's final facilities plan on Tuesday evening.

The mood in the L.V. Rogers gymnasium was already grim on Tuesday evening as SD8 voted to close four schools in Yahk, Salmo, Creston and Nelson, and it didn’t help that the facility lost power for over an hour during the proceedings.

“I am speaking from the heart as a parent, a trustee and a long-time resident of the area,” board chair Lenora Trenaman said, tearful while she explained the rationale behind closing Trafalgar Middle.

“This is not a decision we’ve come to easily.”

Approximately ten parents showed up for the meeting, which ran for nearly four hours. The final result was not especially surprising, as the plan hasn’t significantly changed since last week’s facilities planning meeting, but it marks the culmination of a two-year community consultation process.

The four schools slated for closure all went ahead, while Winlaw and Jewett have been moved off the chopping block a move made possible by a recently announced rural education enhancement fund (REEF) rolled out by the provincial government.

In attendance was Superintendent Jeff Jones along with Kim Morris, Deanna Holitzki, Audrey Mackenzie, Ben Eaton and Lorri Fehr from the district office. They were joined at the table by board chair Lenora Trenaman and seven trustees: Bob Wright, Bill Maslechko, Curtis Bendig, Dawn Lang, Rebecca Huscroft, Sharon Nazaroff and Heather Suttie.

(Cody Beebe attended the meeting via teleconference, but the call was interrupted multiple times during the meeting due to the power outage.)

“This has been a very difficult time,” Trenaman said. “But we want you to know we’ve seriously considered all the information the community has provided.”

Concerns raised about L.V. Rogers overcrowding

A last minute addition to the facilities plan involves housing the DESK program at L.V. Rogers, on top of a newly introduced Grade 8, so concerns were raised about overcrowding in Nelson’s only high school.

Trustees Bendig and Maslechko were pitted against each other when the latter introduced an amendment to add “square footage” to the current high school. Wright pointed out that under the new curriculum learning could occur at multiple venues outside the school, but that didn’t satisfy Maslechko.

“Being old school, I think the school is the provider of the things we’re talking about,” he said, noting his sentiment was supported by the community.

“This is the feedback I’m getting from the community on a daily basis.”

But Bendig believes the finalized plan for L.V. Rogers will work as-is, though the board voted in favour of “further fine-tuning” if necessary.

“I have full confidence we can ensure a smooth transition to a K-7, 8-12 model.”

Only Cody Beebe voted in favour of Maslechko’s amendment. Bendig also put forward a number of resolutions and amendments, based on community feedback, but a few of them were dismissed as “redundant” by Huscroft.

“Tonight it was very important to me to capture the feelings that were presented through our extensive consultation period from the community, so my series of motions addressed issues such as concerns about ‘will schools be too full?,’ ‘will schools have an imbalance in their capacity?’” said Bendig.

Some of Bendig’s motions were successful, others were modified or failed. For instance, he tried to introduce a clause committing to “intermediate programming,” reflecting Trafalgar parents concerns, but it was shot down by other trustees who argued it was too Nelson-centric.

“There are a lot of questions and unknowns,” said Bendig. “I think it’s important to make a clear statement that we’re still looking at all the moving pieces.”

Board clashes over Slocan Valley reconfiguration

One of the unintended consequences of the REEF funding received to save Winlaw Elementary from closing is that the district’s attempts to address the configuration have been foiled.

“What if the REEF funding dries up?” asked Wright, pointing out that removing it from the consideration of closure list effectively means it will remain status quo for the next eight years something he believes will cause multiple problems.

“We will not have addressed the problems that brought us to this in the first place,” he said. “I don’t think we’ve addressed the utilization standards in the Slocan Valley at all.”

But any motion put forward that included re-examining or attempting to address the reconfiguration in the Slocan Valley was fiercely opposed by Nazaroff.

“The Winlaw community supports their school. Valued learning is happening at that school. It’s functioning well. We’re hearing it’s important to think about the whole district, but I think adding reconfiguration at this time sends the wrong message to Winlaw.”

Trenaman said the plan needs to “reflect an ongoing conversation” and there will be time in the next eight years to address the problems that arise.

‘We’re talking about farming out students’

District advisory council chair Sheri Walsh expressed disappointment in the plan.

“It’s a real concern that L.V. Rogers is being pushed way beyond it’s capacity, and I don’t share the hope that it will get worked out later.”

Those concerns were seconded by teacher’s association president Paul Boscariol.

“These may look like great ideas on paper, not so good in reality,” he said. “We’re talking about farming out students on a semi-full time basis into the community, but they’re still going to need a space in the school to receive instruction.”

He noted that Selkirk College is currently running high school courses.

“The space should be here in the schools, not farmed out. This seems like another attempt by the ministry to put the responsibility on the community to figure it out.”

One question raised was about where the school district would be now that they’re disposing of their office.

“Maybe a closet,” Trenaman joked. “We’re going to place the students first.”

Once the board voted to close the four schools they went on to debate minor amendments before voting on the entirety of the plan. It passed without any opposition. When all the voting was done, Trenaman addressed those remaining in the bleachers.

“This has been a very fulfilling process, but it’s also been very taxing,” said Trenaman. “Thank you for all your support.”

The Kootenay Lake facilities plan will have far-reaching implications for the community, and questions remain about district configuration, classroom utilization and the roll-out of the new curriculum. The plan is also contingent on government funding, and without a significant investment for rebuilds and renovations it will be unable to go forward.

The Star is planning follow up stories that will address these questions further.