With a raise of the hand the fate of one of Rossland’s two schools was sealed Monday night.
The board of trustees for School District 20 (Kootenay Columbia) adopted a bylaw to close MacLean Elementary School next year, and Rossland Secondary School will begin hosting kindergarten to Grade 9 in September.
Amidst the flurry, the city will also be losing three grades of secondary schooling, with grades 10-12 heading down the mountain next year to Trail’s J.L Crowe High School.
The vote—that passed six to three without any debate during the board’s regular meeting at Trail Middle School—could have been a crushing blow to Rossland, but there was a groundswell of optimism already rising that night that all grades will be kept in the Golden City for the next school year.
The community-based Neighbourhood of Learning (NOL) committee acted quickly after the board’s decision, and announced a public forum had been set for this Thursday on what options are available to keep K-12 in Rossland.
NOL coordinator Aerin Guy said the forum will give the grassroots movement a sense of cohesion, and funnel some of the ethereal ideas floating in the community into a more concrete form.
“It’s been a fast two months full of information with ideas flying around, so we need to pull people together at this point to move on to the next steps,” she said.
The forum in the RSS gymnasium (7-9 p.m.) will develop working groups and task forces around the options NOL has been researching.
Guy said the committee has been looking at the possibility of an independent school at RSS, creating a municipal school district in Rossland, or the city partnering with the school district and drawing upon a tax increase from its citizens to keep the high school grades in the city.
“There will also be an opportunity to explain what some of the options are in terms of the buildings and remaining with the school district,” she said.
As well, representatives from the City of Rossland will be there to pitch the idea of increasing taxation to help fund the shortfall the school district needs to keep 13 grades in RSS.
“Very quickly council will be meeting to discuss those alternatives,” said Rossland Mayor Greg Granstrom. “Certainly, we are waiting for some more information from the (NOL) committee and we will proceed from there.”
SD20 board chair Darrell Ganzert said the school district was not expecting a reply from the city until early April when its budget process is complete and the city will know if there is the wherewithal to talk figures with the district.
The city was looking for the final word to decide on what to do, as was NOL, said Rossland trustee Gordon Smith, but the will to continue to battle for keeping K-12 in the city did not die with the vote.
“There certainly is a lot of community energy (to keep K-12) which is typical of Rossland,” he said.
Smith, who voted against the bylaw, said the adopted bylaw means the RSS building will be saved and will give the community the opportunity to further save the remaining grades.
“The building staying open, which is the larger of the two, allows us the opportunity to explore alternatives in terms of revenue generating programs, as well as the blended learning if the board decides to do it,” he said.
Although the closure of MacLean—as well as the amalgamation of Twin Rivers and Castlegar elementary schools in Castlegar—will save the district nearly half of the $750,000 shortfall this year, the savings could be less if the money is put where the mouth is.
At one point in a public meeting last month at RSS on the school closure, one man asked people to stand up if they agreed they would take their kids out of the school district if RSS were to close, and instead home school, move away or put their kids in school in another district.
After 200 people stood up the man told the board closing RSS would take over $1 million straight out of the budget.
“It’s a huge, huge economic cost to the school district if RSS is closed. So that’s what you really need to focus on is losing that revenue,” he said at the time.
Another man suggested 90 per cent of parents would consider moving out of the district, home schooling or attend other school districts. But the notion of lost revenue through student defections wasn’t factored in for the final board decision, said Ganzert.
“We had a bunch of people stand up at a meeting, whether that will translate into a bunch of kids, we don’t know. We’ll deal with that issue when we come upon it,” he said Monday.
And the community’s will could be made clear in the next few weeks when NOL launches its community-wide survey, both in a mail out to Rossland homes and online.
“We are going to launch a survey … that asks the community what their opinions on tax increases are and what they feel about that, and if those dollars were to be available what they would like them used for,” said Guy.
The survey will take place over a period of 10 days.
The four options are for $300,000 to be paid annually for a period of three years, for $300,000 to be paid for one year, for $140,000 to be paid for a period of three years (in one lump sum or annually), and $140,000 for one year, carrying potential tax increases of $15 to $95 per year.