School District 20 trustees left only one option on the table for Rossland Tuesday night and that is K-9 at Rossland Secondary School. While that may not have been the K-12 education that was hoped for, it looks like Rossland Secondary School will be the last standing public school in Rossland.
Board members had a special meeting at RSS Tuesday night to have the second reading of two bylaws pertaining to the closure of either RSS or MacLean Elementary School. The options up for discussion were K-9 education at RSS, while closing MacLean, or K-7 at MacLean , while closing RSS.
The option for K-12 at RSS, an option that has been favoured by residents as evidenced by a recent public forum and written submissions to the district, was dropped from the bylaw options last week.
Tuesday, the options were down to two and as the meeting began, there was a sense of apprehension at what might have been the closing remarks on Rossland Secondary as a school. Closing RSS would also mean that two more grades would have to be crammed into the already overpopulated MacLean, and grades 8-12 would have to be bussed down to J. Lloyd Crowe in Trail.
Trustees took the middle ground, voting unanimously for K-9 at RSS, while leaving the K-7 option at MacLean on the cutting room floor.
Rossland trustee, Gordon Smith, noted that there has been tremendous support for RSS in Rossland.
“I want to be clear that I’m not here to placate you, nor am I here to apologize for the board’s action,” Smith said, to the approximate 200 strong crowd, touching on the recent defeat of the K-12 option. “But I’m asking you all to dig deep, to get below the turbulent surface, to a place of inner calm and resolve, to regroup and continue to advocate for the best possible outcomes that will help build this community.”
Smith then highlighted some of the benefits of the option, saying that the savings to the board would be $285,000, and it would also keep the RSS building in the community.
“So while it may not be, in some people’s mind, the best option, it is the best option that is available to us at this point in time, so I encourage board members to support the K-9 option at the RSS school,” he said.
Toni Driutti, who represents Warfield, spoke against the option.
“I have concerns with K-3 students being housed in the RSS building,” Driutti said.
She was concerned with the safety and supervision of students in RSS, noting a busy road outside and a limited play area.
Trustee Mickey Kinakin said that his heart was behind neither of the motions, but since he had to choose one, it was K-9 at RSS.
“The first effect is on the students, we are going to move these students from this community into another community in the name of increasing the opportunities for other students, but for these students, we’re going to end their opportunities in Rossland,” he said noting that the K-9 option has the least effect of the two on students.
“Much of the culture of the school is done after school and before school,” he said. “Moving them out of this community where they can easily access this school and use it for their various gatherings and meetings will mean they will be disconnected.”
Kinakin also recognized the work going on in RSS.
“There’s a comment in here that somehow we will recreate the unique learning we have here in the other facility. It won’t happen.”
Kinakin said that after being involved with the closure of 11 schools, he knows that the culture of one school doesn’t easily transfer to another.
“The reason these things are happening is because it’s Rossland, we’re not going to recreate Rossland in Trail or Castlegar,” he said.
Kinakin also noted that in a couple of months they would meet with the Francophone school, and by closing RSS and using MacLean, the school district would effectively be evicting the Francophone school.
The school has also expressed interest in buying MacLean, but not RSS.
Manning said she is not in favour of closing an elementary school, and said she would vote for both as she did not know which path to take.
Manning was worried about the feasibility of having kindergartens and Grade 9 students in the same building, as she had heard concerns in other communities about Grade 7 students and grade 12s being in the same school.
Trustee Jen Carter said Rossland has made it very clear how they want the school to be run.
“I believe this school is viable,” Carter said. “It has tremendous options for your children and in terms of looking at the budget, we have an election coming up, we have three more years before we have to make some final decisions on terms of our budget. If we close schools or create situations where children are not happy, it doesn’t do anything for us in terms of educating our children, I think we need to have them in places where they’re comfortable, they’re happy, where they have the services that they need in their community. We need to be providing the best services that we can,.”
She said closing schools and cramming kids into portables cuts down on services and increases stress to students.
Trustee Mark Wilson said that if he lived in the community and had a student in the school he’d be on the Rossland side of the fence, but as it was, the board looks on from the other side at the whole district.
“We got into this review because of financial pressure and it boils down to dollars and cents,” he said.
Wilson noted that underutilization of certain schools is costing other schools in the district money.
“So Rossland K-9, we can save $255,000 after the initial transition. Maclean K-7, we can save $455,000 after the transition. So like a couple other trustees, the decision is very tough. Do we have our numbers hat on? Do we look at just where the dollar is and not the community? Or do we look at our community hat and look at the community and what is best for it?”
Wilson said they have to make the best educational decision for the students.
“We have quite a bit of information and quite honestly, I was really torn about where this was going. At the start, one of the people at a previous meeting here said he was a numbers man and he asked how many people would take their kids out of the school (if RSS was closed) and about 200 people stood up,” Wilson said. “That would really take care of our problem right there. I’m a bit of a numbers man too, but unfortunately I see the community side. So I think I made my mind up tonight… I’m definitely going to be wearing my community hat and voting for K-9.”
Board Chair Darrel Ganzert said he wouldn’t keep the audience in suspense, noting that he supports the option for K-9 in Rossland.
“What I understand about the K-9 option is it is not overcapacity, nor will it be in the foreseeable future. It is something that will fit nicely into this building and will allow for growth in the community.
:We all, trustees, believe there will be growth in this community and other communities in the Kootenays. I know it is a compromise position from your perspective, but you do get to keep your children for two more years with this position. It allows the community to access this building the auditorium etc.”
The option passed second reading unanimously to a big applause.
The second option, to close RSS and have K-7 in MacLean didn’t make it through second reading, with everyone but Driutti voting against it
The board will meet again in Trail on Feb. 25 at 7 p.m. to have the third and final reading, and adopt the bylaw.
Ganzert noted that there is no discussion at that stage, and would just be a vote.