REPORTING · 7th December 2010
It was snowing on Monday November 29th, all day and into the night. The snow did not stop parents from attending the final Consultation meeting over the closure of Roy Wilcox Elementary School. Trustees and School Board Administration were out in force, the furthest coming from Stewart.
Brent Speidel gave a quick presentation before turning the floor over to the parents. He said they have heard the concerns from the parents. He said they have met with the city of Kitimat.
“We have looked at pedestrian safety in terms of roads and pathways to and from the school. We looked at snow ploughing of the sidewalks in terms of identifying more critical routes the kids will be taking and the district puts those on their priority,” said Speidel.
The school board looked at the play ground needs and whether to keep it at the school as a community playground maintained by the city or whether the school district would move it to Nechako. The city is still making the decision.
They have also looked at how many kids live in the back loop and whether or not they are eligible for bussing. He said they would be able to accommodate the 80 kids who live back there.
Finally, they looked at Nechako’s ability to look at the influx of students in the terms of how they want the building to look.
Speidel said they have looked at student safety in walking long distances to and from school, safety in crossing busy streets, such as Kingfisher, administration, retaining clubs, student safety walking into the parking lot, transition of students, traffic congestion at Nechako and snow removal at Nechako lots. He suggested having the District truck the snow out of the parking lots.
Speidel concluded a transition committee would be established if they decided to close Roy Wilcox. It would consist of parents, teachers, support staff and students from both schools. They would work together to map out concerns and what has been done. He also spoke about what the school board would need to do.
School Board Chair Barry Pankhurst asked if there were any questions. No one jumped prompting a joke about the meeting being over. However, parents composed themselves and the questions began.
The biggest concern the parents had was the distance between Roy Wilcox and Nechako. The school board was only mandated to bus when a student lived outside of a 4 kilometre radius of the school. A parent challenged how anyone can expect a student to walk 8 kilometres every day and still have energy left over for extra curricular activities. In addition, children faced with this long route might take dangerous short cuts, dawdle along the way or get into trouble. In addition, at certain times of the year, the students will end up walking in the dark.
Lunch was another concern. One mother stated lunch is the only time her family could be together. Others wanted to know what lunch at Nechako would look like. The response for the latter was about utilizing the multipurpose room and the big gym for this purpose.
Bussing was a large topic as parents did not what their children to walk long distances to school. Richard Velo pointed out Saint Anthony’s bussed their students to and from school. The school board told them the parents pay extra for this service. Velo argued he paid his taxes. He pondered: if a child broke their leg, would the school come pick up the student.
Velo also asked about Cablecar. The response was it is well outside the 4 km walking distance. Pankhurst said the school board has a lot of options before them. He said the people were bringing up a lot of good points.
One parent took offence at the idea of having only half the students bussed to Nechako. She stated if they combined Nechako and Kildala one way or the other, the students would be bussed to one school or the other.
Snow removal was another hot topic of the evening. One parent pointed out the sidewalks earlier that day had not been ready for students and parents did not want students walking on the road which had been cleaner.
Pankhurst stated once a decision was made, they would meet with District Administration concerning snow removal priorities. The parent pointed out that if a piece of equipment were to break down, priorities might shift from getting kids to school to getting workers to Alcan. Another parent pointed out there were other priorities which come before school.
Pankhurst said if there was a bad clearing, he would certainly be receiving calls. He also encouraged the parents to take their frustrations to City Council if the snow clearing was not accountable. He suggested having a district representative on the school transition committee.
Another comment was the District could adjust their budget and cut to snow clearing. Both Brad Toth and Velo challenged school board members to put on a back pack and walk to Nechako at that instant to give them idea of what it is like in Kitimat.
But snow was not the only issue. Parents who could not afford to drive their kids to school in -30 weather after their kids missed the bus, either due to a lack of money or having work, could result in children freezing to death.
Toth told the school board, if there was any way for the school to be kept open, it should remain open.
“Judging from your power point presentation, it sounds like you’ve already made this decision,” said Toth. “The group that makes this decision helps turns this section of Kitimat into a dead zone for anybody who wants to come to town, anyone with kids who wants to buy a house, if they have a choice, are you going to buy in this section of town? No you’re not.”
Toth said his house value will drop because of the decision the school board makes. He bought his house so his children could go to Alexander school. It closed. However he did not mind as he was close to Roy Wilcox. Now this School is on the chopping block.
One parent wanted to know what the board thought about forcing students to change schools two years in a row by making them go to Nechako one year and then move to the High School the next year. Pankhurst said they do not have the staff to do all of this at once. Speidel said one class will be caught changing schools twice. However they will be doing this as a group rather than separately. In addition, Roy Wilcox students would be a majority at the school, rather than a minority.
But the this led to a question as to why the school board was closing the school of choice when they could close Nechako and put the school into Kildala. Speidel said by combining Roy Wilcox and Nechako, they keep everyone up the hill. Moving French Emersion was also considered an option by parents.
Speidel explained Nechako and Kildala had larger capacities. Nechako was bigger, had a multipurpose room with cafeteria tables, more classrooms, capacity for operating a day care and strong start. At Roy Wilcox, students eat lunch on the floor of the gym.
It was asked if Roy Wilcox had value. If the school was shut down, would it be abandoned, become a blight or be destroyed? The response: the building would not be abandoned and would be maintained to the point where it could be recovered. Alexander was leased out, Terrace is looking at turning a school into a seniors centre and Pankhurst suggested Roy Wilcox could become Kitimat City Hall.
It was explained the school board had to decide where to draw the line and community had to share in the responsibility of how to make this work. Bussing students would cost up to $56,000 and it would be up to the board to make this decision.
But through out the meeting, parents felt alienated by the school board not having all the answers at this point. Madelyn Robinson had been attending meetings. She challenged the board to come up with a plan before they close a school and the School board stop putting the pressure on the District to get the children to school safely.
Speidel said what ever the school board decides will be a part of the upcoming budget process. A parent demanded the board does not close the school until they have the answers to the questions. Pankhurst said this was a decision the school board could make. They could table the motion or pass or reject it.
A parent accused the board of making a decision before they had worked out the logistics. Sue Dobbin argued the transition committee should be in place before the board makes the decision so there are no nasty surprises.
“We’re going on the promises of others and we’ve seen where that failed in the past and it feels like the acceptation [of this] before we’ve got more concrete answers at this point a month away from the decision or less,” said Dobbin. “I’m dealing with this and I’m dealing with a middle school concept and both of them, to me, I’m just uneasy on it, I don’t have a clear enough picture of how this is going to work and it’s very frustrating.”
A parent stated outright the decision made no sense. Barry Pankhurst stated he was getting frustrated. He said the school board was getting sick of having to close schools to balance a budget.
“And somebody said today, ‘don’t blame the government, don’t blame the district.’ Well the simple fact is, if none of the partners are working together, you have to blame somebody,” said Pankhurst. “If there was another way of doing this, we would do it. […] By law, we have to balance our budget. We have to balance our budget, we don’t have a choice. We have to balance our budget.”
He said he did not like the argument to pick one school over another because the same arguments will be presented by parents at the next school to close and they do not come out of this looking good. If a school is left open, the board will have to find new ways to save the limited amount of money they are given. He pointed out this is not a threat, it is a fact.
“We are given a certain amount of money that we have to live with it. Do we agree with it? No. Do we do anything about it? No. Do we complain? Yah. Does anybody listen to us? No,” said Pankhurst.
He told the parents they were trying to give them the information. Velo said the parents wanted answers but felt like they were not receiving answers. Another parent said they should have received earlier consultation meetings so the parents could have had the answers they wanted.
Pankhurst said the School board had looked into different things the parents wanted to know about. They were trying to do this. He said he never got over Alexander closing and that was the best school Kitimat had. He also had doubts of ever being re-elected as a trustee. The Trustees will meet on the 1st of December and discuss this, potentially with louder voices than in the gym that night.
A parent asked the school board what the best deal the parents could make with the school board so they do not come out of this with nothing. Pankhurst asked the parents what would satisfy them if the board makes the decision to close.
Regardless, the parents would be instrumental in forging this new school and the school would be different from the way it is now. Pankhurst stated if the school stayed open, they would have to find other ways of being more efficient. Even bussing could change something in the school district.
Parents still wanted a plan. The draft plan requested for when the school board has made a decision on what they can afford to do, what the budget allows them to do and what Nechako would look like. Nancy Wells, school board superintendent, said the transition group will be given a skeletal plan from which they could create the new Nechako Elementary School.
Trustee Art Erasmus pointed out that last year, two schools in Terrace were merged into one of the schools. He pointed out they were two different schools who merged into one and how the transition group brought the schools together and by September, everything ran smoothly. Unfortunately, the point fell flat when it was pointed out the two schools were Clarence Michael and ET Kenny, two schools that were side by side. Erasmus argued the parents were bringing up the same issues.
The meeting wrapped up. It was still snowing. As if nature itself was trying to drive the message of the snow home to the trustees, several vehicals became stuck trying to get out of the parking lot and had to be pushed out.
The board makes the decision on Wednesday, December 8th.
A chart shows a break down of how the students will fit into the amalgamated Nechako. K-7