School District 20 – Trustees and politicians meet to save schools

Officials from both City of Rossland and School District 20 administration met to discuss reconfiguration or school closure.

The chess match between two local administrations has progressed through its first move.

An “exchange of positions” has taken place between the City of Rossland and School District 20 administration on the possibilities of a partnership between the two governing bodies to keep K-to-12 education in the Golden City.

Officials from both sides met one week ago in wake of a public forum on the future, possible reconfiguration or closure of one of Rossland’s two schools, in a bid to keep all 13 grades of education offered in the city.

There was a frank discussion about what was possible between them, said Darrel Ganzert, chair of the SD20 board of trustees, but nothing concrete was advanced.

“To an extent, we as a board are waiting for the City of Rossland to make a firm suggestion to us on what kind of cost sharing or cooperative venture we can have,” he said Wednesday. “Both sides would like to see something that works. And it is really a matter of what that looks like financially in the end, and what is possible by law.”

Both sides have taken the information discussed last week back to their respective administrative bodies and discussions are taking place within the board and city council.

“I can tell you that we have had one face-to-face meeting late last week plus have exchanged some data back and forth,” said SD20 superintendent of schools, Greg Luterbach. “We are still in conversations.”

Rossland Mayor Greg Granstrom said there is a lot of discussion yet to be had on the partnership.

“We are very aware here in Rossland of the value of K-12 in our community as to our sustainability and economic development. It goes far ranging,” he said. “We are definitely going to work diligently with the school board to come to an agreement … and have to explore all the options.”

Ganzert said SD20 is expecting to hear back from the city soon, but could not give a timeline for a decision on a deal.

“But they understand how urgent a decision is needed,” he said. “If we are very, very close to something with the city, we can extend that (deadline) very slightly.”

The city had asked for a May deadline for a deal to be struck, but that was impossible to do, Ganzert said, with the district preparing to advance its budget next month.

On Tuesday night the SD20 board met at Rossland’s high school with three parent advisory committees—from J.L. Crowe high school, Rossland Secondary School and MacLean Elementary—to discuss the possible closure and reconfiguration.

There was “less tension than in the general forum” in Rossland, said Ganzert, with Crowe’s PAC concerned on overcrowding and that if there was to be a shift in students, that it be done in a logical, sensible way.

Rossland PACs made it clear that they don’t see K-7 only as a viable option in the city and they presented those reasons, said Ganzert, and stated they see K-12 as more appropriate.

There is a $1.75 million budget deficit facing the district over the next three years. In closing two district schools, including Rossland’s secondary school, SD20 would only save $625,000, according to SD20 administration calculations.

With both public forums completed in Rossland and Castlegar, the SD20 board will now review the information and feedback received. They will meet Monday afternoon for a lengthy session to debrief and go over information and see if there is anything further needed to make the decision.

Should the board decide to close schools, they are required to pass three readings of a bylaw in open meetings.

School trustees will face the music in the communities they plan to close schools in by hosting second reading debates back-to-back in the communities of Rossland and Castlegar.

The SD20 board voted in favour of splitting second reading into two meetings and holding debate on the bylaws in respective communities in order to give parents a first hand look at the rationale behind the decisions.

First reading of what could potentially be two bylaws related to reconfiguration and closures of Twin Rivers and one school in Rossland will take place Feb. 4. Second reading (if necessary) will then take place Tuesday, Feb. 12 in Rossland and Wednesday, Feb. 13 in Castlegar.

The board’s final decision dates on those motions will be completed by Feb. 28.

Starting in the fall of 2008 the district began a process of reviewing its facilities in light of declining enrolment and budgetary pressures. Various reports were generated and public meetings held, all focused on a variety of options and scenarios related to school configurations.

After the multiyear process the board stated in April of 2012 its intention to look at facilities specifically in relation to recon-figuration or possible closure in Rossland and in the Twin Rivers/ Castlegar Primary area of Castlegar.