Thursday, March 13, 2008

Emotional trustees seal the fate of east side schools

"The time has come that we need to decide"--School Trustee Louisa Sanchez, at Tuesday night's School board meeting

And decide they did, the Daily News provides a comprehensive look at the events of Tuesday nights school district 52 meeting, which gave the final go ahead to close Seal Cove and Kanata schools at the end of August this year.

Trustees in support of the motion to close the schools (except for councillor Wiens who was against the closures) each took their turn explaining why they felt that those two schools should be the ones selected and then conducted their vote to seal the fate of the two east side schools.

Trustee Brian Johnson abstained from voting, as he felt that he had missed too many recent meetings and may have missed out on important information regarding the closures that could have influenced his voting.

That's a sentiment that might raise an eyebrow of one or two parents across the city, especially on the east side. Where opinion might hold, that in such an important vote as a school closure, it might be incumbent on the trustees to investigate on their own any outstanding issues that could sway their vote. If ever you were to cast a vote at a school board meeting, you would think that it would be when the fate of a school is at stake.

Trustee Wiens made his case for keeping the schools open, advocating the satus quo until the district could present its case to the province for a new school, at which time the Seal Cove and Kanata properties could be sold. As the evening went along however, he didn't seem to provide enough evidence to turn the tide on his own.

In the end, he was the lone dissenting vote on the closures, as the board went ahead with the recommendations, making this the last year for the east side students in their familiar surroundings.

The full review of the emotionally draining three hour meeting, was presented in Wednesday's paper as the front page story.

Trustees make hard decision in bid to save dollars
By Kris Schumacher
The Daily News
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Pages one and two

As of Aug. 31, 2008, Kanata and Seal Cove elementary schools will officially be closed, following a decision by trustees from School District 52 at last night's board meeting.

With all seven trustees in attendance for the first time in months, the motions to pass and adopt School Closure Bylaws No. 2-2007 and No. 3-2007 were carried by a vote of five to one. The only trustee to vote against the motions to close Kanata and Seal Cove was Russell Wiens. Only six of seven trustees voted in the both cases because trustee Brian Johnson abstained from voting, admitting he had missed important recent meetings that may have provided details necessary to influence his decision.

The motion to give Westview Elementary's School Closure Bylaw a first and second reading was brought forth by Tina Last, after passing her role as chair to Janet Mirau, but was not seconded and therefore defeated.

Before the motion to give Port Edward's bylaw a first or second reading could be put forward, another motion to engage the District of Port Edward in partnering to resolve cost issues was tabled by Mirau, and unanimously carried by the board.

The nearly three-hour meeting was an emotional one for trustees, who all went into detail describing their decision-making processes, and aside from Wiens, explained why they felt closing Kanata and Seal Cove schools was necessary.

In both cases, Trustee Bart Kuntz brought forth the motions to pass and adopt the school closure bylaws, and both times he was seconded by Barry McDonald. Kuntz stated that it should not matter what school students attended in the district, as the level of professionalism, support and education that students receive is exceptional at all of Prince Rupert's schools.

He also said he felt that as a trustee, he would not be doing his job by continuing to allow educational funding to be spent on repairs to buildings.

"I really do believe that my child can go anywhere in this district and thrive," said Kuntz. "When people talk to me about individual schools I get upset, because I really believe that there are staff and teachers at every school that will give them the same care or better."

People defend their schools, and that's a beautiful thing, but the facts are, wherever students go in the district, there are excellent people there, and there will be more pros than cons if the motion goes forward."

Barry also said that he would rather see money spent on books and programs, and that schools are only as good as the parents, teachers and community make them.

"The good part about all this is that all of sudden we have the community, and people at Westview, Seal Cove and Kanata rallying around [their schools], but why haven't people been doing this before?" he asked. "All of a sudden it comes to this and everybody steps up and starts to realize what the school is doing for the community."

In voting against closures, Wiens said that although the District Visioning Committee and administrative recommendations were compelling, he didn't feel that an immediate decision to close schools was the best option.

"I believe there is a better way to achieve the goals of our district, which is the renewal of our buildings and furthering our support of student learning," he said. "I believe that we need to present a case to the Ministry of Education where we as a school district and as a board, take a full advocacy route and put forward a notion that if we could have a school built, we would then sell the properties of Seal Cove and Kanata and take down the building on Conrad."

Last admitted there were strong cases for both sides and that she had kept an open mind over the course of the last 12 months, but said that waiting any longer to take action was not helping the 2,500 local students.

"Are we saying that we are currently delivering the best education that our students deserve? I don't believe that's the case," said Last. "We are pouring education dollars of the students of today and tomorrow into tired, aging, costly-to-maintain buildings. I want to see programs enhanced, I want to see education improve. I don't want to put more paint on buildings, that's not my goal and that's not what I signed on for."

Mirau said that while no trustees liked the situation they were faced with, the board was bound by ministry policy to operate within the scope of what they're given to work with.

"I look at our capital and operating funding, and we should be saving 50 to 80 per cent of what we're given for buildings, but we don't save anything," said Mirau. "We spent 171 per cent of that budget, which means we spent all that money we were given and a whole bunch more with money that was set aside for educating children and programming. We had to take from that in order to duct tape our buildings together, and to keep them functional.

"I don't want to close schools, but we as a community have an opportunity to join together for the greater good, and all join together to create solutions to problems that are so incredibly challenging."

Louisa Sanchez noted that although she hadn't planned on saying anything at all, she wanted to see full-time librarians in schools, special education needs met, and all the extra programming back into classrooms.

"It is very hard for me tonight sitting here listening to everything, but for me the time has come," said Sanchez.

"The time has come that we need to decide."

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