An unexpected turn of events took the wind out of the sails of the many people prepared to continue the fight for the survival of their small school. At School District 51’s meeting of the Board of Trustees last Tuesday, May 11, trustees unanimously voted to stop the Beaverdell school closure consultation process, but voted to continue consulting with the community to create the future. Parents of Beaverdell students were moved to tears by the decision that was applauded by the 60 people present at the meeting.
Although presentations at the opening of the meeting included more calls from parents and concerned community members for the board to keep the school open for the eight students currently attending and for future students, once the board started discussion on the topic it was clear that further pressure wasn’t needed.
The board’s first round of comments made it obvious that they were not interested in closing Beaverdell Elementary School. Trustees thanked all the community members for their insightful and moving presentations at the consultation meeting held in Beaverdell.
“I was very moved by the meeting and I learned a lot about the community that I didn’t know. It’s deeply affected my position on our decision. I thank the community very much for your moving and very respectful presentations,” said Trustee Sally Garcelon.
Although the school is safe for another year, the board asked the community to continue the conversation to look at how the school will survive into the future. Trustee Cathy Riddle, who made the motion to stop the closure consultation, felt that after the many emotional meetings the board needs to have more communications with the community.
“There were many sleepless nights, including last night knowing that this was coming up. Lots of meetings, and angry people. That was learning for us. If we value the core of early years that I know that we do, we need to put the focus of this process on how we continue to do what we do for the most rural, non-vulnerable students of this district. I believe with the information I gathered, I cannot justify the closure of the Beaverdell Elementary or this process to continue in the format it has taken,” said Riddle. “I don’t want the discussion to stop. The reason for that is I don’t want to see us here again next year. We want to continue the culture of success in all our elementary schools and start the conversation happening about how we can keep that going.”
Board of Trustee Chair, Teresa Rezansoff was also pleased with the outcome of the consultation and supports the development of an understanding with the community on what the future will bring.
“At the beginning of this process I said to everybody that you shouldn’t be afraid of consultation, and that consultation is a very powerful thing, and I think that’s been proven. The intent of the board was to go in and consult with the parents and the community about Beaverdell. I think it speaks to the process, it speaks to the fact that things work when we allow them to.”
Michael Strukoff, superintendent of schools for the district, made it clear that the process had to be called a school closure consultation even though it was upsetting to the community. Strukoff said it was necessary to clearly identify the issue to keep the transparency of the process obvious for everyone.
“I know we struggled with the wording of ‘school closure.’ However, there’s been a track record in the province of B.C. that for full transparency to have named it anything else and it led to school closure would have made the board appear as if they were doing something underhanded,” said Strukoff. “It is an unfortunate name but it is to be sure that there are no surprises should that consultation have led to school closure.”
The board will meet with the community on May 19 at 6:00 p.m. in the Beaverdell Elementary School to explore future challenges for the school.
The board also passed their upcoming school budget that incorporates reduced costs to manage their anticipated $976,000 shortfall. Cuts in the budget were made to areas identified by the administrators as well as in public discussions at four finance committee meetings held in the last three months. Discussion items were focused on the costs of deploying technology equipment in classrooms, increasing the availability of course options for high school students, and concerns for ensuring adequate funding levels for teachers assistants.
As a part of the treasurer’s report, a conversation on the upcoming carbon action costs anticipated to be levied by the spring of 2011 occurred. Secretary - Treasurer Janette Hanlon anticipates the costs to be in the area of $10,000 for the year. With improvements in carbon offsets, Hanlon hopes that these costs will decline over time.
The topic of a conflict of interest guideline was tabled until their next meeting by the board as one of the trustees, Kris Sabourin, was not at the meeting in person due to a death in the family