Sunday, February 14, 2010

Podunk Below the Masthead (Friday, February 12, 2010)

An emotional debate over school closures continues, letters to the Prime Minister and the Library makes a hard decision on days of operation, some of the items of note in the Friday news cycle.

Daily News, front page, headline story
WESTVIEW AND PORT ED ARE BOTH SAYING 'SAVE OUR SCHOOL' -- The battle to keep schools open in Prince Rupert was taken to two fronts this week as parents, students and community supporters of Port Edward and Westview schools gathered to make their case to the School District that their school should be spared from the closure debate. The emotional issue was examined in a front page story in Friday's paper.

350 letters have and drawings have been compiled by local organizers all in a bid to bring the Prime Minister to Prince Rupert for the city's 100th birthday celebrations. Economic Development Officer Nellie Chung has packaged up the local efforts of school children across the city, hopeful that the direct and personal approach will bring a Prime Ministerial visit to the city in March.

BC Ferries has provided some of their findings from a recent investigation into the sailing of the Northern Adventure on November 22nd, a decision to sail which has become rather controversial in the wake of the severe weather faced by the vessel forcing it to return back to Prince Rupert. During the incident a number of passengers and crew members suffered minor injuries and their was a fair amount of damage to vehicles and items aboard the ferry during the rough seas. The Corporation vows to improve the communication between itself and the communities it serves, an announcement that many in those communities suggest is long overdue.

The Sports section featured a review of the city's basketball scene with details of the Men's B League final, a look at some of the developments in minor hockey and the ongoing CIHL playoffs was also featured.

(Archive for Daily News Articles for February 12, 2010)

The Northern View
Prince Rupert library closing on Mondays due to budget shortfall --
Facing budget cuts the Prince Rupert Library makes the hard decision to reduce its operating hours in the city, closing the library to the public on Mondays (see article here)

CBC British Columbia, Daybreak North
Doctor-Patient Confidentiality --
An official from Northern Health offers up some background on the issue of doctor patient confidentiality when it comes to our private health records (listen to interview here)

The full list of current Daybreak North interviews can be found here.

Daily News, front page headline story
Westview and Port Ed are both saying ‘save our school’
By George T. Baker
The Daily News
Friday, February 12, 2010

School closures are an emotional issue no matter which side of the fence parents, teachers and school administrators sit on.

That much has become clear after the first two legs of School District 52’s three-leg school closure consultation process where tears have been shed, voices have cracked and blood temperatures have boiled at times with frustration.

And School Board trustees say they had expected it.

“It’s not like we wake up in the morning and say ‘I would like to close a school today’,” commented school board chair Tina Last.

While emotions may be obvious on the faces of Prince Rupert and Port Edward what is not yet known is which school or schools will be closing. The expected date for that answer is March 23rd, but Last has twice repeated the date could change if there are further possibilities to consider.

School board trustees, school district administration and staff sat patiently through the Wednesday and Thursday night meetings, listening to the views and questions parents presented concerning the possible school closures.

Parents asked about a possible reversal of the middle school plan; what happens with transportation if their school closes; why is their school being considered for closure in the first place; and can children be bussed to Port Edward instead of Prince Rupert?

That is only a smidgen of the comments and questions brought forward, but the central theme from parents was that there are still too many questions about school closures and not enough answers.

“There have been more questions provided by the school board than there are answers,” said Andrew Mayer, representing the Westview Parents Advisory Council.

“We share in the frustration that we have not received a full disclosure regarding the financial information. I am sympathetic that you are doing your best, but the information should be provided and another consultation held thereafter.”

Mayer, whose presentation to the school board was precise and clear, spoke for nearly 20 minutes - outlining the Westview PAC’s concerns for their school.

Westview is the community’s only French immersion school and is the top performing public school in the community in terms of Foundational School Assessment test results. The parents are an integral part of the school’s success with such an involvement rate that they were able to raise $30,000 for a recently installed playground. They do not want to see their school close.

“This school board appears to be looking at this school as just another school in the district, but it isn’t,’ said Cynthia Pyde.

“Getting to the other schools means crossing Highway 16. If phase two of the container terminal goes ahead, there will be all sorts of heavy duty trucking using that road as it is a major artery for port development.”

Local firefighter Calvin Thompson, who has had two kids pass through Westview’s doors, said the board needed to begin taking the Ministry of Education publicly to task.

“I do urge the board to take the time and point the finger where it belongs. We can’t afford to do more with less,” said Thompson.

More with less is just what School District 52 is facing. There has been a severe 31 per cent decline in school enrollment totals since 1998, and the school district expects another 16 per cent by 2014. School districts rely on funding which is based on student numbers, which means at the current rate revenues would continue to decrease.

Meanwhile, the cost pressures are climbing.

The province’s new carbon tax is expected to raise costs for the School District because older buildings are not likely to be ready for carbon neutrality by September. And the Ministry of Education has said that they are not willing to budge on that.

There will be a medical services plan increase, the implementation of full-day kindergarten, and teacher salaries - which are already pegged at 86 per cent of district costs - will also rise along with their pension benefits.

As it pertains to annual operation savings, it appears that closing Roosevelt Elementary would result in the biggest individual savings at $355,000 per year, whereas Westview would save the school district $145,000 and closing Port Edward would actually cost the school district the rural school grant it receives, which is worth $50,000 per year.

Roosevelt paints an expensive portrait to keep open. The life cycle costs associated with the building are $5.6 million versus $3.7 million for Westview and $3 million for Port Edward.

But numbers only write half of the story.

On Thursday in Port Edward, students and their parents rallied before the consultation meeting. They were led by the most unlikely of leaders, 12-year-old Barry McLeod, a seven-year student at the school.

Behind rolling fire trucks and police vehicles, McLeod led what appeared to be the complete student contingent, the parents and even the Mayor, Dave MacDonald, around the entire Port Edward community chanting “Be cool, save our school!”

Just as Westview is the school that many locals look upon warmly as a success story for North Coast academic achievement, Port Edward Elementary is looked upon by its community as the centre of everything.

“We can’t go anywhere else. This is somewhere we rally around and it validates our existence as a community,” said Port Edward district councillor Knut Bjorndal.

Port Edward Elementary is not only a place of learning, but also home to local garage sales, barbeques, community indoor sporting matches, the local library, Thanksgiving dinners and just about anything else the community can think of.

It is so important to the community that the Port Ed council spent $40,000 of its own money to conduct an engineering study on the feasibility of turning the school building into a multi-use facility.

“My children went to this school and got a damn fine education,” said Kathy Bedard, a city councillor in Prince Rupert and a long time resident of Port Edward. “Sometimes the school district has to draw the line in the sand and say what is most important – our kids are what is most important.”

A full gymnasium of Port Edward residents were adamant that their community was different than Prince Rupert and that they did not want their kids learning in Prince Rupert.

Of course, none of the parents at either Ecole Westview or Port Edward Elementary, the first two schools to receive consultations, want it to be theirs that closes. Neither do they really want Roosevelt to close. But the school district is in need of new schools. And at least one school appears destined for closure. To get there, the school district needs to have utilization of capacity rate reach approximately 85 per cent, which is a positive turn of events, given that the provincial Ministry of Education used to require an absolute minimum 85 per cent.

Based on projections, closing Roosevelt and Port Edward would result in the 94 per cent utilization, compared to 77 per cent if Westview was closed alone or 82 per cent if Westview was closed with Port Edward. Roosevelt’s closure alone would reach an 89 per cent utilization rate.

Just as it is likely that at least one school will close, it is unlikely all three will close. Inevitably this means that parents, as much as they don’t want to, are left to argue why their school should be the one left open.
“What has been controversial is the FSA rankings,” said Mayer. “The Westview PAC recognizes that the FSA is problematic. But when we are considering that we are choosing one school over another, rankings cannot be ignored. Perhaps it is time to reconsider the Roosevelt model. We are not saying we are better, but it is the position of this PAC that the Westview option is better for the school district as a whole.”

“Port Edward Elementary is a shining example of what education should be,” said a Port Edward mother. “You have to hold up Port Edward with pride. This is not Prince Rupert here. None of us are Prince Rupert.”
When it comes to moving children, if both schools did close that would mean 109 kids changing schools compared to 150 if just Roosevelt closed.

Westview parent Jason Brown told the Daily News that his son, originally enrolled in Seal Cove before it was closed, has already moved elementary schools twice. That would make five school movements during his time in the Prince Rupert public education system, if you included the middle school and then secondary school. The thought of moving again was hard to understand.

“We are feeling the stress. Our son is more stressed out than we are. He makes friends at a school and then we have to move him again,” explained Brown.

Barry McLeod, the 12-year-old leader of the Port Edward rally, is about to graduate. Any change, which would not take place until September 2011, would not affect him. However, it would affect his younger sister Hope, 7, and brother Brandon, 2.

“The kids want to keep this school open. This is the heart of our community and it holds us together.”
His Mayor agrees.

“We just want the school board to realize the community needs this school,” said MacDonald.
That much is clear. The school board trustees certainly understand. Yet, as Last said, they feel there is no other choice.

“It’s the buildings and not the school. It’s the buildings that are killing us. Our capital costs are something that the province just cannot afford. You saw the children [at the rally] and that is hard stuff on everyone.”
And doubtless, Roosevelt parents will be bringing reasons for their school to stay open to the next consultation meeting, on March 2.

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