SD 20 changes direction; communities react
Contention continues even after School District 20 (SD 20) voted 5-3 Monday night in favour of a motion that will table the Planning for the Future document that recommended closing schools in Rossland and Castlegar.
The district will proceed, instead, with ‘education focussed’ public consulations, in keeping with a new mandate from the Ministry of Education (no schedule has yet been determined for this process). As part of the motion, which was intended to diminish the ire and polarization between municipalities that has resulted from the proposed school closures, the board decided to cancel public consultations slated for January regarding Planning for the Future. “It seemed to me that some of the public, some of the trustees, and many of the municipalities were looking at the options in the Planning for the Future document and thinking they were the only options available,” said Castlegar trustee Mac Gregory. “That was never the case, but (the response) seemed to be so focussed on the negativity of those options.” Gregory said he feels the four options (in Planning for the Future) became a lightning rod that focussed the upset of municipalities and hijacked any productive discussion about a vast array of as-yet-unexplored options, so tabling it for the time being should help get the dialogue going in a more positive direction. Trail city councillor Robert Cacchioni disagreed, arguing Monday’s night’s decision will create a delay that will cost the district unreasonable amounts of money that should be applied to educational programming. “Our (Trail’s) position is clear – they (SD 20) have done a study for how many tens of thousands of dollars, that took two-and-a-half years,” Cacchioni said. “Keeping things status quo, they’re losing three-quarters-of-a-million dollars a year to keep bricks and mortar at the expense of education. “(The SD 20 should) take one of the top four options (from the Planning for the Future document) and do it.” Cacchioni went on to criticize Castlegar representatives for stalling the process. “They have four elementary schools and a high school – what are they complaining about? It’s ridiculous,” he said. “I don’t know who’s doing all the yapping out there (in Castlegar), but they don’t know what’s going on – that’s not just my opinion, it’s a fact.” He went on to say that every student, parent and grandparent will lose if the district continues to lose $700,000 a year, “so Trail is on the side of every student, parent and grandparent.” Castlegar city councillor Kevin Chernoff did not concur. “We’ve gone out of our way not to make this an us-against-them issue. From our perspective, when you look at the study, Trail Middle School is the obvious choice (for closure) …but we tried not to go there, focussing on our own issues instead,” Chernoff explained. “We understand that eventually, there are going to be some closures, but I think it should be about community impact as well as money.” Chernoff said he doesn’t feel Planning for the Future data can be interpreted fairly by people so close to the issue, which is why he’s supporting the idea of an independent consultant (as originally suggested by fellow councillor Kirk Duff), and is prepared to live by any conclusions that consultant may reach. “I may not like the result, but I would feel informed and that the board exercized due dilligence in making the decision.” “I think fear of litigation is part of why SD 20 changed their first version of the Planning for the Future document. I think politics and personalities have no place in such an important decision, so an independent, impartial review is an obvious next step.” District board chair Gord Smith said the division between two camps – Warfield/Trial and Rossland/Castlegar – is neither productive nor necessary. “It’s truly unfortunate because we have said consistently that the last report, the Planning for the Future binder, is not a final analysis. The top-scoring scenarios that include the closing of RSS are not recommendations from staff – (they are) simply the analysis to date, and the analysis is by no means complete.” He went on to describe the immediate future for SD 20. “The next step with the board will be having a working committee meeting, probably early in January, to design the next steps, identify the things we want to bring forward,” he said. “Staff is already working towards this goal. We’ll be focusing on the 21st century learning (a new directive from the Ministry of Education) and some of the new information coming out of the ministry. We’ll be looking at setting up a process so people can feel comfortable offering feedback and dialogue. We’ll move forward from there and incorporate that into the existing data. “Until the board meets again in January, there are no dates to share at this time. We will be coming back to the public at some stage and we’ll offer plenty of notice for those dates before they take place.” For the Rossland Telegraph’s take on the story, click here.