Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Middle school plan is out for now, but more education decisions to be examined in September

About the only definite things to come from Thursday’s session of School District 52 are that the middle school issue seems to have been settled with that option discarded and PRSS will apparently eventually close, but when that happens is still up for debate.

Thursday night’s School District meeting provided a number of options for District trustees to examine and eventually vote on, much of which could be found on the SD website last week.

The most contentious of the issues and options involved the creation of a middle school for grades 6-8, an option that has long been discussed but once again didn’t make the cut when the votes came down.

The timeline has not been developed as of yet for the closure of PRSS and the amalgamation of its student body with that of Charles Hays Secondary School, though one thing is at least certain, school will be in at PRSS in September of 2009, a public notice of intent of closure could be delivered in September, which then would require a sixty day discussion period before that would move forward.

According to one of the options outlined in the critical path descriptions viewed on the SD website, that could see the amalgamation process take students up to the 2013-14 school year before the two schools would have merged. The full review of discussion points for last weeks set of meetings can be found on the School District website.

Of course that could all come for debate again in September; another issue that will no doubt be revisited again in September will be the need for school closures in the community.

With Prince Rupert’s declining population and that of the city’s school age children, the possibility that more schools may have to be closed will become a key part of next years School board deliberations.

Already it seems that the battle lines are being drawn around Westview school, where parents are concerned over the possibility that their neighbourhood school may be the next to close, likewise Port Edward continues to seek ways to make their local community school more feasible economically, in that instance the District of Port Edward is looking for alternative uses for the school to keep education a going concern in that area.

The Daily News reviewed all of the developments from Thursday evening, with a detailed piece in the Monday paper.

By George T. Baker
The Daily News
Monday, June 22, 2009
Pages one and three

School District 52 will be amalgamating its two high schools but will not be opening a middle school for now.

The decision to amalgamate Prince Rupert Secondary School and Charles Hays Secondary Schoo1 was passed 6-to-1. .

At this point, PRSS is not guaranteed to close. Thursday night only presented the first reading in three reading process.

The next opportunity to give notice will be in September, where the second reading automatically leads to a 60-day public consultation period. The earliest a final decision can be made is November.

A motion by school trustee Bart Kuntz to open a grade 6-to-8 middle school in Prince Rupert was defeated by trustees.

The decision was welcomed by many in attendance with applause, as those in the stands seemed to be decidedly against the idea of making the middle school decision last week.

Trustee Russell Wiens said he opposed the middle school concept on the grounds that an extra transition for First Nations students was not helpful, bussing students to a central school would mean students who lived further away would not be able to participate in extra-curricula activity and that decision had to made too fast.

"I feel like there is a lot of pressure on the board to make a decision on this," said Wiens.

Trustee Leonard Alexcee said he favoured the idea of a middle school because of the benefits members of his family have realized in the southern part of the province.

"[They] are in middle school and they are happy and are further ahead in their grades than' they ever were," said Alexcee.

However, the motion was defeated. School board chair Tina Last addressed the idea that the middle school was a "smoke screen" for closing schools.

"That has never been hidden and we have always been open about this: until the community addresses the capacity problems there will be no funding for construction: said Last.

Trustee Terry-Lynn Huddlestone said that the province's ministry of education confirmed that no new funding for building would be forthcoming unless the district dealt with its capacity problems.

"This is a rush, I know that. But we have to make a decision."

According to a September 2008 facility report by the school district, the only two schools are not significantly under capacity - PRSS and Lax Kxeen. CHSS is 34 per cent under capacity, while every elementary is. Lax Kxeen is 4 per cent over capacity and PRSS is one percent under capacity (capacity being the amount of students a school can hold).

In a 6-to l decision, trustees did amalgamate the two high schools.

PRSS principal, Shelia Wells, said the decision was the right one to make though she would have liked to see the middle school come to fruition.

"Thank you for closing the high school because we need to amalgamate the high schools," said Wells.

The decision was made Thursday night in front a smaller crowd than Tuesday night's Town Hall meeting but , those in attendance were just as vocal and many made it clear that they - believed a middle school was the wrong move to make.

Delegates were given an opportunity to speak before school trustees made a decision.

While Charles Hays Secondary School principal Sandra Jones threw her support behind the middle school, city councillor and Prince Rupert Secondary School teacher Anna Ashley, Prince Rupert District Teachers Union president Gabrielle Bureau and local resident, Marty Tingstad, all opposed the changing of the current 8-12 system.

Port Edward Mayor Dave MacDonald and district councillor James Brown were also in attendance to remind trustees that the district was still working on ways to keep its school open and hoped no final decision that would effect Port Edward Elementary was made.

None was, but in all likelihood the school district will be closing two elementary schools because of declining enrollment, a drop in funding from the ministry of education and a serious need to upgrade existing facilities across the school district.

Tingstad said he was concerned with the idea that Westview may be closed and that his children would not be able to go to the same elementary school near their home.

Tingstad said if Westview were closed, it would be the fault of the school board and their decisions and not the

"When we moved to [Second avenue] we heard nothing but good things about Westview," said Tingstad.

"But now, because of poor decisions by this school board ... you are sucking the neighbour out of neighbourhood."

There was also some concern that the $8 million in funding for the seismic upgrades for PRSS would not be so easily leveraged with the ministry of education to building a new school.

Because that money is ear marked specifically for PRSS, it might not be possible for the district to use its money in other ways.

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