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Low attendance at SD 20 meeting disappoints

Kyra Hoggan
By Kyra Hoggan
March 3rd, 2011

Local officials are disappointed with a meager turn-out to last night’s School District 20 (SD20) public consultation meeting at Stanley Humphries Secondary School.

  Only about 40 people, including at least 15 SD 20 staffers and three Castlegar city councillors, were on hand to discuss the district’s options in moving forward with decreased enrollment and subsequently lower funding.  City councillor Deb McIntosh said the lack of attendance is at sharp odds with the message she’s been getting from residents to fight for Castlegar’s schools.  “It was utterly disappointing, the lack of parent/public participation,” she said. “Parents have said they want to have input …so when the opportunity to provide that input is created, you have to show up.  “You can’t keep leaving the few to do the work of the many – it just doesn’t work that way.”  She said she was also less-than-thrilled with the content of the evening, as many of the questions and how they were framed led her to wonder if the SD 20 board has already made up its collective mind on regional school closures.  “The scenario they gave us in one question is the one Castlegar city council has said we don’t support, so no matter how we answered, it was an implied approval of the facilities report, which calls for the closure of Blueberry Creek and Castlegar Primary schools,” she said. “Another question was ‘Which is more important to you, facilities or educational learning programs?’”  “Like someone at our table said, that’s like asking which of your arms you should cut off. We need them both.”  Further, she said, the document itself discourages community input, as it is “huge and hard to understand” … but she stressed that doesn’t let community members off the hook for engaging in the process.  “I’ve heard loudly and clearly that parents want us to fight for Castlegar schools, and we’re happy to do that, but we need our residents behind us.”  Councillor Russ Hearne was also in attendance, along with councillor Kirk Duff, and Hearne said he agrees with McIntosh on all but one point – he doesn’t wonder if the board trustees have made up their minds.  “I think most people on the board have made up their minds already, and I think the request for input is so they can tailor the rationale they offer for what they’ve already decided to do.  “Like the facilities-versus-education question – it’s easy to steer people with a question like that to create political cover for yourself when you go ahead with closing a school.”  Hearne said he feels the options on the table are the easy ones – not the creative solutions for which local students, parents and communities are hoping.  “I’m not suggesting it’s easy to close a school,” he said. “But it seems like the only options we’re looking at are black and white, no shades of grey, and without any creative, Kootenay-specific problem solving.”  For example, he said, closing a Rossland school because they can’t hire a teacher to instruct the only two students wanting to take Calculus is not the only option – especially if it means the expense of bussing those students to a larger school.  “Why can’t we adopt new technologies for delivering those programs remotely, or by teleconference? Closing the school seems extreme, and counter-productive.” He said the polarization of communities on this issue has created a negative interaction that he fears will leave some kids out in the cold, and he hopes subsequent meetings see a less biased approach.  “Of course there’s bias, because a school doesn’t exist in a vacuum – it’s more than just a school, it’s part of the community with economic, social and educational implications,” he said. “There’s got to be a way to factor all that in when making these decisions for the region as a whole.”  He said he expects to see standing-room-only attendance at tonight’s SD 20 meeting in Rossland,  Meanwhile, the SD 20 handouts provided an option for written submissions to supplement the verbal ones provided last night, and indicated there will be a district-wide public summary meeting scheduled at the close of the consultation process.  For more information or to read public submissions, visit the district website at www.sd20.bc.ca

Categories: Politics

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