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REPORTING · 28th December 2010
Walter McFarlane
Earlier this Month, the school board meeting fell right across our deadline and due to time, the article we wrote was cut short.

On Wednesday, December 8th, the school board voted to close Roy Wilcox Elementary School. The vote received three readings. The decision was made because there are too few students in the schools and the school board is still paying for the building.

School Board Chair Pankhurst stepped down from the Chair so he could freely talk about the safety of the children as his also attends this School. “I don’t believe that we have taken care of the problem to the satisfaction of the parents of Roy Wilcox.”

He said while he understands schools have to close the school board has to look after the needs of the children. The board is talking about bussing by grade but this is problematic when one child has to walk and the other can get on a bus.

It was stated by other board members how Nechako was close to Roy Wilcox and could accommodate all the students claiming they would be able to address further issues once the decision was made.

Ray Raj pointed out the safety concerns were not met, but could be met. He agreed with Pankhurst and said he could not vote in favour of this motion. The motion was called and given three readings.

When the time came to discuss the other school closure, Thornhill Jr. Secondary, Tanis Kilpatrick stated they needed to look into it further because there were alternatives which could keep the school in the community.

Gary Turner, the Thornhill Trustee, was outraged. He stated the board refused to listen to the consultation process. The parents just want to close the right school.

“This comes down from the old board who did the 2012 garbage. That was a flawed decision you guys made. Those who were on the board, it was flawed. The information was flawed, the procedures was flawed. Anybody who thinks you can up and change what a board did here, you can change it the next day, you can’t. Because people who were on the board cannot admit they could not have made a mistake,” said Turner.

Turner explained his position forcefully stating; if the trustees followed the advice of the administration without any consideration, they might as well all quit and let the treasurers run the schools. They were supposed to be there to make decisions for education and not financial reasons.

“Why not close Nechako in Kitimat and put everybody in Mount Elizabeth. It’s big enough; you can do that, if you want to do it financially. Financially, it’s sound. One school, not three schools. Come on people, look at this educationally, not financially,” said Turner.

For more on his outrage, read the article: Heated Debate Cheers Protests on Thornhill School Closure on the Terrace Daily Website.

Raj pointed out they chose to close Roy Wilcox although it was not only full, but he said it was the best school in Kitimat. “We have safety concerns but we still decided to do it,” said Raj. He said this closure has been on the books for a while and the information should have come forward.

As with Roy Wilcox, the board argued once the school board made the decision, they would have the time to work out the details.

Parents came out to speak and stood in protest of the school closure in Thornhill, however they were ordered to sit back down. For Thornhill, the vote did not have unanimous consent to move to third reading.

At the end of the Discussion, Pankhurst asked the parents not to blame the school board as the school boards across the province were not receiving enough funds to properly run their schools. “We have to live within our means by the School Act. We don’t have a choice in the matter,” said Pankhurst.

Reed Nelson, KDTA President stood during the question period and let the secretary treasurer know once the decision is made to go to the middle school concept, they have ten working days to open negotiations with the teachers union regarding the formation and structure of the school. He set a date for December 17th and gave each board member a letter.

After the meeting, Nelson said parents should realize there were some changes which have to be made. “When we look at the total number of students that we are enrolling and the number of students that we have, we are looking at providing the best possible programs. It is up to the trustees to determine how to deliver that. However, according to trustee Raj, they have decided to close what he paraphrased as the best school in Kitimat in order to facilitate developing and presenting those programs,” said Nelson.

He agreed there were issues around student safety and transportation of students which the board has not addressed but is aware of. He said there would also be displeasure in Kitimat due to the closure of their school above all others. They could have deferred the Kitimat School as well.

Despite the deferral, parents from Thornhill still stormed out of the meeting. Ralph Ottens commented: “I believe that some of members of the board of the Trustees were not open or receptive that the proposals residents of the Thornhill had presented to them.”