Never look a gift horse in the mouth.
But on Monday night in the first meeting of the new School District 20 board of education, trustees nearly put their heads in the mouth of the horse as they tried to understand what a $50,000 gift from the province meant.
In September the Ministry of Education announced they were giving $50,000 to Rossland Secondary School for playground equipment for Grade 6 and 7 students at the school.
As one of their first orders of business in their inaugural meeting, all the new board of trustees had to do was approve a motion to accept the money and they had the gift.
However, the feat proved more difficult than was drawn up on paper and, although the motion eventually passed its first two readings, the discussion quickly deteriorated into a territorial debate over school closure.
Trustee Mark Wilson thought the money would be wasted if it were spent on RSS and then the institution was slated for closure one year later.
He said he did not remember approving the money for Rossland, and added that it cost Glenmerry close to $200,000 to install a playground, more than the amount the province was handing over.
“We are looking at changing the configuration within the schools in Rossland. To go ahead and earmark that $50,000 when it might be used in a better place (was unreasonable),” he said.
“There might be another school in our district that needs the money more than Rossland.”
He also wanted to see a plan in place from the RSS Parents Advisory Committee as to where the playground would go, what it would contain and how they proposed to pull it off within that budget.
That comment drew a rise out of trustee Mickey Kinakin — representing Area I and J in the RDCK — wondering why the topic of school closure in Rossland was being brought up.
Newly elected chair Darrel Ganzert said the board represented the entire district and, therefore, had to consider the impact of a decision in one area against another.
“I was only wondering, Mr. Chair, because it seems we’ve already said we’re going to close the school in Rossland,” said Kinakin, referring to an earlier comment by trustee Lorraine Manning.
Trustee Manning said she never inferred RSS would be closing.
“Yes, you did,” said Kinakin.
The chair quickly stepped in.
“I don’t want to head back into that area that the last board was in quite so quickly,” said the chair. “And I don’t see it quite the way you do, Mr. Kinakin.”
The chair asked for trustees not to read into the motives around the discussion.
Rossland trustee Gordon Smith said the board was sending a bad signal with the debate on the motion.
“The signal the board is sending right now is we’re going to close your school, we’re going to re-purpose your money … Let’s be clear about the intent of what this board is signaling to a community,” he said.
The motion was a procedural bylaw to draw in money gifted and targeted for RSS, trustee Smith said.
According to a letter from the Ministry of Education, the board had to adopt a capital project bylaw in the amount of $50,000 before the money would be issued.
In issuing the money, the ministry stipulated it was to be targeted for RSS and not any other school, said SD20 executive assistant Donna Nicoletti.
“And, as far as I know, there was no motion to close RSS,” trustee Smith said.
But trustees Manning and Wilson both felt accepting the money could potentially cost the school board too much in additional installation costs.
Superintendent of schools, Greg Luterbach, said accepting the motion did not commit the board to spending $50,000 or more, if need be.
“It just says we are accepting this money … and we will receive it,” he said.
When the announcement was made it was a pleasant surprise to the school district, said trustee Smith,
“Now I think the board is getting ahead of itself,” he said. “They have been gifted by $50,000 and now they are wondering what they are going to buy. I am a little bit puzzled as to why there is so much concern over the table when we have been handed $50,000?”
A motion to postpone a decision and refer it to the finance and facilities committee was defeated, while a motion to accept the money passed two readings, readying it for approval at the next board meeting.