A plea from Westside parents to delay the planned grade reconfiguration for Westside schools in September 2018 has been rejected by the Central Okanagan Board of Education.
The resolution was passed at the last school board meeting and the trustees who supported it saw no valid reason to revisit the decision at Wednesday’s meeting, which was overshadowed by school chair Moyra Baxter having to excuse herself due to illness and being taken to hospital by ambulance.
School district officials declined to comment on her condition beyond saying she possibly suffered a reaction to something she had eaten earlier.
Sarah Neukomm, a Rose Valley Elementary parent, was joined by parent Chantelle Desrosiers in making a submission that the trustees acted outside of school board policy in adopting the reconfiguration measure.
Their concerns were acknowledged—with trustee Lee Mossman admitting the parents had a right to be upset over the short consultation process—but that was trumped by financial concerns with delaying the move to September 2019 and the immediate need to reduce school enrolment pressures at the elementary school level.
Kevin Kaardal, Central Okanagan Public Schools superintendent/CEO, said there are consultation policies and timelines in place for school closures but not for grade reconfiguration decisions, although trustee Deb Butler did attempt to contradict that viewpoint.
For Neukomm, she described the school board’s position as “maddening.”
She also noted the board admitted for the first time an awareness of Westside enrolment issues back in September 2017.
“Why didn’t the board policies kick in at that point and the consultation with parents start then?” Neukomm questioned.
“When we met with trustee Julia Fraser at a meeting in January, the September 2018 start-up date was on the agenda and she changed that to 2019 after talking with us. Parents left that meeting thinking that was what would happen, but at the next planning facilities committee meeting in February it was changed back to 2018.
“So in a period of 28 days, in one committee meeting and a board meeting, the decision was made to go with September 2018. When did they have time to discuss that change and understand all the implications?”
She cited how the grade reconfiguration issue for Rutland schools, the pilot project for this process, involved six public meeting opportunities with parents between September 2014 and January of 2015 and was discussed six times at board meetings before a final decision to proceed was approved.
Neukomm raised the accusation that the trustees might have discussed the issue in-camera to avoid “facing the public wrath,” saying if that is the case it is contradiction of school board policy.
“How can they vote on something when even at the last school board meeting they were still asking questions about the reconfiguration process. How can you vote on something you don’t fully understand?”
While both Mossman and Fraser made statements touting the merits of grade configuration proposed for the Westside, Neukomm and other parents expressed frustration they were missing the point.
“We have never opposed grade reconfiguration. We have been concerned about the timing and the potential impact this will have on Mount Boucherie by 2025,” Neukomm said.
The school board was told the reconfiguration process is already well underway, with concerns of teachers having been addressed and consultative meetings with parents starting to take place.
“Principals are already starting to hold meetings with parents to help them understand what these changes are going to look like come September,” said school assistant superintendent Rick Oliver.
Mossman noted that while parents opposed to the move are passionate in their feelings, the same passion is shared by school district staff to make the reconfiguration changes.
“I know your passion is genuine but so is the passion of our administrative staff, teachers and support staff to make this transition work absolutely as best as possible,” Mossman said, speaking to the parents at the board meeting.
“Kids are resilient, and our staff is committed to do every damn thing they can do to help any students not get left behind in this process.”
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