Beaverdell school closure consultation process officially started

Mona Mattei
By Mona Mattei
April 1st, 2010

While the audience of local residents from Beaverdell and Midway fluctuated between catcalls and applause, the Board of Trustees of School District 51 debated whether to consider proceeding with the closure of Beaverdell and Midway Elementary Schools in the Boundary region. Although Board Chair, Teresa Rezansoff, tried repeatedly to reassure the people present at the special meeting on Monday night, Mar. 29 in Midway that initiating the process does not pre-determine that the school will close, many of the parents in attendance were not convinced. To their dismay, the decision was made to proceed with the process for Beaverdell. The district’s school closure policy requires a minimum of 60-days consultation period during which the trustees evaluate the future of the school.

There were many parents and community members of the over 60 people present who spoke about their case for keeping the schools open during the delegation period at the beginning of the meeting.

“I’d like to remind the board, you’re not just affecting teachers, students and parents, you’re also affecting communities. And yes, you can transport students from here to Greenwood, or Beaverdell to Rock Creek, but you affect things like property values, the decision about whether people will move to a community or not,” said John Greaves, past school board trustee and Midway resident.

“These small communities are struggling to make sure that they have facilities for when people move into these communities. And they pay taxes to support the schools. Taking those kinds of services out of our communities devalues our communities and I don’t think we deserve that.”

After the delegations, School Superintendent Michael Strukoff and Secretary-Treasurer Jeanette Hanlon gave a rundown on the current financial situation and the cost savings of closing schools. The district received the budget from the province on Mar. 15 and immediately began analyzing the impacts of it, explained Strukoff. The board then held a meeting just after spring break concluded to review the financial situation.

There are two funding categories: per student and supplemental. Strukoff said that the supplemental funding includes what’s now referred to as funding protection. The funding protection for 2010/11 is $663,790. In addition, Strukoff said that there is transition funding to help districts adjust to the new formula they created. In total, the district has $880,000 in supplemental funding.

“When a Ministry of Education funds a district, they are funding a district not schools,” said Strukoff. “We as a district are facing the challenge of having a shortfall of roughly $976,000 and we have to figure out how to manage that, reduce our costs, so that we can submit a balanced budget. There’s going to be a ripple effect across the whole district as a result of this. We also know that even if we balance the budget for 2010/11, we know we have $880,000 still to cut from our operations going forward starting 2011, 2012.”

Both Midway Elementary and Beaverdell Elementary were considered for closure at the meeting. Due to the continued funding from the provincial government for the small community grant, Midway Elementary was considered to be viable and the board voted not to start the school closure process.

Although, in the case of Beaverdell, there will be some costs to moving the students to West Boundary Elementary School, the report to the board identified that it could save up to $168,000 over three years if the school were closed.

Rezansoff provided opportunities for the trustees to have open discussion about both school closure proposals prior to finalizing a motion for each one separately. Trustee Kris Sabourin talked about the importance of education and connection to community for children in their early years and begged the board to leave the school intact. She suggested that they initiate some other process to talk with the community in a non-threatening way to find a solution to the funding crisis.

“We’ve had many parents stand up in the last two meetings and say that the closure of their small school for the youngest and most vulnerable children in our district would not just affect their K – 3 experience but their foundation that we as a board gearing up for early years, and the province who has made the early years initiative, I believe we would be doing them a disservice if we open the process to close that school,” said Sabourin. “I beg this board to put this process aside and carry on with this year as it is.”

While most trustees voted in favour of initiating the school closure process for Beaverdell, Rezansoff cleared stated that the community should not be afraid of the process, and that the outcomes might be different than the ones they anticipate.

“We developed this process because so many school districts across the province were getting in trouble with the public in trying to go about this process and keep it open and transparent. At the end of the day, this doesn’t mean a school is going to close. The end result is that the school may stay open. I think we need to not be afraid of it. We need to trust this and move into the full process because those conversations are not going to happen otherwise,” said Rezansoff.

Although the board stated their desire to be open-minded about the process, the residents were clearly not sold on their stance. Beaverdell mother Tammy Shipton said that meeting space was already booked by school district staff in Beaverdell for future meetings before the board’s Mar. 29 meeting. The booking made her suspicious of the board’s intentions. Rezansoff reiterated the board’s dilemma.

“The prospect of closing a school is not something that any trustee looks forward to with any happiness. It is an extremely traumatic process for us, unimaginable for parents,” said Rezansoff. “As a school board we have a duty to look at the big picture here, we have clearly seen that we have a massive deficit this year, and we have a massive structural deficit looming. We cannot turn our backs on that – we have to look at every single thing. We should not be afraid to start the process. I’m not going into it with my mind made up that Beaverdell is closing and I don’t think anybody else here is.”


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