A deal between the City of Rossland and School District 20 was quashed Monday night as the board of trustees voted against accepting the City’s offer.
The resolution to provide a grant-in-aid to SD20—through a rise in local city taxes—in order to keep kindergarten to Grade 12 grades at Rossland Secondary School (RSS) was defeated by trustees at the regular board meeting at Trail Middle School.
The deal from the City was riddled with nine procedural points that could not be remedied, said SD20 board chair Darrell Ganzert, and timing was at the crux of it. He said the board did not feel comfortable relying on the citizens of Rossland in a referendum—an answer which wouldn’t be available for 90 days—if it accepted the deal.
Mid-May was the latest the board could contemplate any City support, while referendum results would not be available until mid July. With the school district’s budget nearing completion—and many contractual obligations set in place during that process—a mid summer answer after the budget was set could have cost the district too much in union salaries, Ganzert explained.
“I believe fully it was unintentional on the City’s part, they just simply weren’t aware of our processes,” he said. “They made an offer in good faith that it would be acceptable … but the offer was fraught with some very strong problems that couldn’t be overcome.”
An attempt to buy some time so the City could mount a counter offer was snuffed out by the board during the meeting.
Rossland trustee Gordon Smith proposed an amendment to the motion to write the City a letter saying the board rejected its offer and to explain the problematic parameters and why it was challenging, and to instruct SD20 staff to negotiate a new set of conditions that would be favourable to the board.
Smith said the City made a motion with the intention of providing a cost neutral solution for K-12 in Rossland, and that intention should be honoured.
“They were unaware of some of our procedural requirements per the School Act, disposal of property and grants in lieu, but there is a middle ground if we could get the staff groups to speak with one another,” he said.
Prior to the motion the city’s Neighbourhoods of Learning (NOL) committee presented to the board on keeping the senior grades at RSS as a healthy option for those students who did not want to attend Trail’s J.L. Crowe Secondary School.
Smith used much of the NOL rationale in his argument for more time. He said having K-12 in Rossland would provide a blended learning choice, that there was a home for the academies at RSS, and a potential for revenue generation with additional revenue leverage via the international program.
He pointed to a strategic plan the school board was embarking upon in the next couple of months, predicting that a lot of the points to be detailed in the plan existed right now within the RSS building, including innovative delivery for education (blended learning), revenue generation possibilities, partnerships with municipalities and good community engagement.
The debate on the amendment lasted for 20 minutes, but the pros and cons of the City’s deal had been discussed at length in an earlier committee of the whole meeting last week.
In the end it was the quality of education, foremost on the board’s mind, that won out, said Trail trustee Mark Wilson. The board was looking at the “best possible scenario for education in the southern end of the district for secondary school education,” and that meant having Rossland senior students in Trail’s school.
“The financial part got put right to the front door without considering all of the other facts,” he said. “If it was strictly a financial decision, K-7 was the answer in Rossland because of the capital outlays that we have to put out in that building.”
Without the Rossland students, by 2015 Crowe would be dropping to 525 students, a number that would limit students in their courses—affecting young people across the Greater Trail region.
By bringing in the Rossland students the school would have its numbers back to over 800 students, said Wilson, and would ensure the funding would be there for enhanced courses and programs.
The passion that was shown by Rossland to keep grades 10-12 in the city was huge, said Wilson, and no one can be blamed for trying to find another way to keep K-12.
“My heart goes out to Rossland, but at the end of the day it’s got to be an educational decision. And that’s really the toughest part we had to come up with,” Wilson explained.
NOL committee chair Aerin Guy said the board decision was not unexpected.
“But we wish that they had been willing to discuss terms with the City that were favourable as Gordon Smith spoke of in his amendment,” she said.
Overall there is a sense of disappointment in the city over the board’s decision, Smith concluded.
“There were a lot of people that had worked for a long time, in fact in some cases literally decades, to support and foster K-12 within the city of Rossland,” he said. “It’s unfortunate to see that chapter come to a close.”
On Feb. 27 the board of trustees for SD20 adopted a bylaw to close MacLean Elementary School next year, and Rossland Secondary School will begin hosting kindergarten to Grade 9 in September.
That means the city will be losing three grades of secondary schooling, with grades 10-12 heading down the mountain next year to Trail’s J. L Crowe Secondary School.
Although the closure of MacLean—as well as the amalgamation of Twin Rivers and Castlegar elementary schools in Castlegar—could save the district nearly half of its $750,000 budgetary shortfall this year, the savings could be less if Rossland parents elect not to send their children down the hill and go elsewhere.
Annex was a deal breaker
When the City tied their grant-in-aid to the possible purchase of the MacLean School Annex that made the City’s offering to SD20 capital money, instead of a cash injection that would have gone to operations.
However, if capital money comes from the sale of a building, the school board can only use the money for the construction of buildings, not for operations.
“We cannot use that to operate the schools,” said Ganzert. “So the money would sit in a capital fund and we would have a $270,000 deficit to make up on top of the current one we do have.”
The board would have to go through bylaw process to dispose of the building, which in turn has to go through the Ministry of Education for final approval on the sale of the facility. Ganzert said that ministry approval could take four to five years to come through.
As well, the province would require the board to re-start the school closure process and consult with the public again because it would be changing the question of the bylaw.
“To be able to turn (the Annex) over to the City, we couldn’t even do that right now,” Ganzert said.