Monday, January 21, 2008

School District elects new chair, but many concerned about potential empty chairs to come

School District 52 trustees elected their chair for 2008 this past week, but the dominant issue of their first meeting of the year was the potential closure of Westview school, a recent addition to the School District's closure list.

When the District Visioning Committee's Interim Report was introduced to the meeting, the temperature of debate rose a bit as trustees expressed their disappointment that key portions of it had been released into the press in December, before they had a chance to even receive the report.

The interim recommendations of the DVC are that Seal Cove and Kanata Elementary schools should close at the completion of this current school year, while Westview would have one more calendar year before it faced the same fate.

While not the only issue addressed by the District Visioning Committee the topic of school closures is of course the one that affects the population the most and receives the most attention. With the timetable for debate on the issue of school closures rather tight, School trustees are concerned about receiving the final report and then meeting with the public in a timely and effective manner.

The Daily News examined the situation in Friday's paper.

Trustees take delivery of report calling for closures
By Kris Schumacher
The Daily News
Friday, January 18, 2008
Pages one and three

Tuesday night's school board meeting saw the election of a new chair but most of the debate on the evening centered around the District Visioning Committee and its recommendation to close Westview school.

With trustee Brian Johnson available to cast his vote by phone, Tina Last was re-elected to board chair with four votes ahead of Russell Wiens who received three. Janet Mirau was nominated for the position of vice chair and voted in unopposed, and the rest of the voting and appointment process ran just a smoothly, wrapping up without incident.

It wasn't until Superintendent Eric Mercer delivered the District Visioning Committee's Interim Report to the board that things heated up and trustees began voicing their concerns.
Some members of the board were upset that the recommendations of the interim report were revealed to the public in late December - before the board had officially received it.

"The interim report was very public long before we ever got to meet as a group, and it wasn't very nice press," said Wiens. "The press being what they are, it was sensational and very disruptive, and scary for parents, and I wouldn't want to see that happen again."

While The Daily News used the word "unanimous" to describe the DVC's recommendations to close Seal Cove, Kanata and Westview, everything reported in the Dec. 21 article was an exact reflection of what was contained in the DVC's interim report presented to the board.

The interim recommendations of the DVC call for the board to "immediately pass a motion that all three school closures [Seal Cove, Kanata and Westview] be approved within the 2007-08 school year," with Seal Cove and Kanata closing as of June 2008 and Westview closing in June 2009.

The interim report states the DVC's goal is "to replace one and eventually several of our existing elementary buildings with new facilities," and that the group wishes its plan be expressed as "an educational growth and renewal plan rather than simply a school closure plan."

In addition to the closure of three elementary schools, the DVC is also suggesting that the school district staff, including those in the board office, Wap Sigatgyet and the resource centre be relocated to the Booth site or another surplus school/district site.

And the DVC is recommending that transportation services be developed for families adversely impacted by these changes, and that any district savings be used to enhance current programming.

Also included in the report is the suggestion that the board explore the possibility of making timetable shifts at Charles Hays Secondary School or other options that would support the renewal and/or rebuilding of the Prince Rupert Secondary School facility.

"As the chair, I would expect the board to react to this, and perhaps have questions and input for the DVC, not in an attempt to influence their decision-making but certainly to give some reaction," said Mercer.

"Now that the board is party to it, I think comment on it is prudent."

Trustees then wondered what the process was now that the interim report had been received, as the recommendations made are similar to the direction the board had already been proceeding last year.

The issue of the DVC operating under a tight timeline was also raised by the board, which was concerned with being able to receive the final report and engage with the public before their March 11 meeting, where school closures will be on the table.

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