It was déjà vu all over again when the board of trustees for School District 20 rolled into Rossland Tuesday night for another meeting with the community.
It was a familiar scene to Rosslanders: the school district’s predicament rolled out in a series of carefully prepared slides, the silent sentinels of the board arranged along the head of the gymnasium, and an opportunity for the people to give their input on an decision that will greatly affect the community.
The board was tasked with the process of disposing of MacLean Elementary School, now deemed a superfluous facility with the kindergarten to Grade 5 program heading two blocks away to Rossland Secondary School in the fall.
The board was required under its own bylaw to hold a public meeting to begin the process of the sale, and see what the community wished.
The trustees sat impassively while superintendent of schools Greg Luterbach spoke to the thinly scattered crowd of 22 people about the situation and the options facing the school board.
The rhetoric was lost on Rossland city councilor Kathy Moore, who asked the salty question that still rubbed the wounds of most Rosslanders.
She pointed to two previous public meetings on kindergarten to Grade 12 education that each had over 500 people attend, in which the board claimed it would take the broad wishes of the community into consideration in its decision.
In each of those meetings the board intimated its door was open to the community for input, but quickly closed it when the time came for debate.
“Our input didn’t make much difference,” Moore told the board. “What difference does it make in this process?”
She characterized the board’s actions as “insulting,” but her comments drew no response from the impassive board members.
After city councilor Jill Spearn said the disappointing turnout for the meeting was due to how “deflated” the community still was over the board’s earlier decision, SD20 chair Darrell Ganzert broke the board’s silence.
“I know the decision the board made wasn’t what the vast majority of the people in Rossland wanted and expressed very clearly,” he said. “But I know the effort and the work the people of Rossland put in had an effect on every single board member.”
Every trustee had to make up their mind in their own way, he said, and they used that Rossland information to make their decision.
“Even though it didn’t go the way of the decision that Rossland wanted, I know it had a huge impact on every trustee I talked to,” he said. “So I didn’t see it as a waste of time. But perhaps I could see the perception of that.”
“Those other meetings were not a waste of time,” Moore replied. “I’m saying this one is because from the last ones you didn’t hear what we wished.
The community came to the board with a good, compromised solution and was willing to give up MacLean to keep kindergarten to Grade 12 in the community, but it was shut down, Moore said.
“So now you ask us to come here and give our thoughts on this facility?” she said. “The reason we don’t have 500 people here is because the other 475 people don’t think it is worth their time to come because you don’t listen to us.”
Moore’s comment drew applause from the people gathered.
The meeting marked the beginning of the formal process of deciding what to do with the MacLean Elementary School, the Annex building and its lands.
The board intimated it was “prepared to receive input from Rosslanders” in a public meeting, including an opportunity for people to respond to the four options being considered, or to suggest an alternative use.
The disposition of the school could take a long time, or it could be done quickly depending on who makes an offer to the school district for the building. If another school district, which is the Francophone school L’École des Sept-Sommets (School District 93) in Rossland, makes an offer, SD20 does not need ministerial approval to sell the building to them.
Any other group, outside of a school district, would need ministerial approval on the sale.
The school district presented a series of four options that have pros and cons associated with them, including
After the consultation the board may choose to dispose of the building and its site by passing three readings of a bylaw.
At the same time the discussion of the MacLean school building and site goes on the board will also consult around the potential disposal of the MacLean Annex building and site.
In February, 2013 the board passed a bylaw closing MacLean Elementary School and reconfiguring Rossland Secondary School and J.L. Crowe Secondary in Trail for the fall.