Rossland meeting highlights need for input in school closure debate

The future of Rossland schools hangs in the balance as a decision on what form they will take is expected to be made in February.

The future of Rossland schools hangs in the balance as a decision on what form they will take is expected to be made in February by School District 20. On Tuesday night, the Neighbourhood of Learning (NOL) committee hosted an information session on the options for Rossland and to answer questions on the process.

Well over 60 concerned parents and residents came to the info session, which precedes the school district’s public forum on Jan. 15 at RSS. That night will be a chance for residents to give their input directly. The district is also taking written submissions, but those only until Friday, Jan. 4.

At the meeting, Jennifer Ellis, NOL co-ordinator talked about the importance of putting in your input, and the committee put together some key points to address in submissions.

School District Trustees Gordon Smith and Mickey Kinakin were also in attendance, as well as Coun. Kathy Moore. Gordon is Rossland’s Trustee and former chair of the district board. Mickey is a trustee from Electoral Area I and J of RDCK.

Both helped to paint the reality and also suggest what tone could help Rossland have a better chance to get them to see eye to eye.

Smith brought up the reality that the district is facing, with year after year of budget cuts and a provincial government that has once again changed the funding formula to further cripple the districts coffers.

He said that the board is looking at each item line by line on the budget and that while the estimated $143,000 that the district would save per year doesn’t look like much, the district is looking at “dollars and cents.”

A member of the public countered that there was the possibility that Rossland high school students may opt to homeschool rather than bus down to Trail, and that if 20 students left the district to do that, it would amount to a loss of much more funding.

One of NOL’s suggestions is that RSS become a K-12 until 2016, when it is reassessed. L’Ecole Fracophone Sept. Sommets has expressed  serious interest in buying MacLean Elementary, which would help offset RSS costs. If RSS is over capacity with K-12, then the Francophone school would be open to leasing rooms to the district for lower grades.

Ellis said though, that SD20 projections show that the capacity won’t be filled until 2029.

MacLean , however, would have a lot of trouble meeting demands, as it is already at capacity. Rossland’s population  is also expected to continue to increase, with recent census data showing a 8.5 per cent jump since 2006.

Kinakin noted that the board is coming at the problem from a financial standpoint.

“You would have to look very carefully at all the figures the board puts up, that doesn’t mean $143,000. It has to be thoughtful and it has to work with what the board is putting forward as its rationale,” he said.  “I think at some point you have to talk about the 800 pound gorilla in the room, which is the politics of the situation… I think it would be well worth your time to engage the political arm of Rossland, to the board and above the board.”

Kinakin suggested talking to community leaders, politicians and businesses about the affects that a school closure would have on them. He said the ministry of Education is looking at economic growth as a high priority, so questioned what effect that might have on the political side.

“It won’t wash with the board, because we’re not an economic engine, but it does wash with other groups and it washes really hard,” he said.

Coun. Moore encouraged residents to contact the city and ask them for involvement, though she said they would be “preaching to the choir.”

“The council is very supportive  of keeping K-12 in Rossland,” Moore said. “But there is a sort of respect that the City has for the school board , because the school board is a different level of government that the City. There is a sort of sense around the council table that we can show all the support we can for the community, but it is not our decision to tell the school board what to do.”

Smith also noted that in the past Rossland has represented itself extremely well, and constructed great arguments to keep its schools.

• Jan. 4, 2013 – Deadline for written submissions from members of the public to the school district. Email submissions to facilitiesconsult@sd20.bc.ca.

• Jan. 15, 2013 – School District 20 Rossland Public Forum, 6:30 p.m., RSS Gym.

• Rossland PACs will be meeting with the board on Jan. 22 in an invitation only meeting.

• On Feb. 12, the board will be in Rossland for the  second reading of the bylaw.

• Feb. 25 will be third reading of the bylaws at Trail Middle School.

For a recent column by NOL, click here.