The Central Okanagan school board has adopted a grade reconfiguration plan for Westside schools that will take effect in September.
School board chair Moyra Baxter and Lake Country trustee Deborah Butler voted against the controversial measure, saying more time is needed to study the impact on parents, students and the long-term planning implications for Westside schools.
When discussed at public meetings and the school board committee level in January, the timeline for the switch was set at September 2019. But in February at the planning facilities committee meeting, that timeline was moved up to September 2018.
Baxter said the resolution only has been discussed at the board level once, at Wednesday’s board meeting, and trustees were being put in a position to vote while still asking many questions about the potential impact.
“I feel we are being extremely short sighted here, in making a decision with short-term gain by supporting this resolution that may result in extreme long-term pain,” she said.
Baxter was referring in part to similar grade reconfiguration also adopted by the board at Wednesday’s meeting for Lake Country as of September 2021 (middle school Grades 6-8, secondary Grades 9-12) and Mission area as of September 2019 (middle school Grades 6-8, secondary Grades 9-12).
In both cases, those two areas have new middle schools coming on stream to address the grade realignments.
For Westside, the reconfiguration trigger point of September 2018 will see Grades 6-8 at Neil Bruce Middle School, Grades 6 to 9 at Glenrosa Middle School and 9 to 12 at Mount Boucherie.
And while a need has been identified for a new secondary school for the Westside, no provincial funding commitment has been made yet.
School district superintendent/CEO Kevin Kaardal acknowledged the move is a short-term measure to address exploding enrolment in Westside schools, acknowledging that MBSS will be beyond capacity, even with the proposed addition of up to 17 portables, by 2025.
“Without a new school, the school board at that time will face a decision of how to go forward,” he said.
He added that in starting the incremental buildup of portables now, it will help spread the cost impact over several years, which for Westside portable additions next year will be $1 million.
Other school trustees voting in favour of the move cited the financial implications of maintaining the status quo as enrolment continues to increase.
Trustee Chris Gorman said he agonized over the decision, caught between the potential impact on students and parents and fiscal pressures facing the school board.
“I was up until 4 a.m. last night thinking about this. I realize that timing is an issue but if we wait until 2019 we can’t say what the cost implications will be and how that might affect school programs and services,” Gorman said.
He said other costs before the board will include a new provincial payroll tax that will add up to $1.87 million to the budget, money that must come from the operational side, and pending fallout from the Canada Supreme Court decision in favour of teachers on classroom size composition.
Trustee Julia Fraser, who represents the Westside on the board, also spoke in favour of the resolution.
“It doesn’t matter what year we implement this, parents will say the Grade 5 kids aren’t ready to go to middle school in Grade 6,” Fraser said.
Fraser talked about her own daughter and adjustments she has had to make in the wake of a personal tragedy, the loss of a family member, at times having to stop and collect herself and fight back the tears.
“Sometimes the anxieties that parents feel get passed on to our kids, and we forget that kids are very resourceful and that there is a lot of help available to help those kids who might struggle with a change like this,” she said.
Trustee Lee Mossman said as a trustee, he is empowered to act in the best interests of all Central Okanagan School District students. “The cost pressures we face are going to continue. It would kill me if we delayed this a year, the cost implications of doing that means having to cut student programs or services,” he said.
For Westside parents who attended the meeting, they were collectively upset the board opted to make a decision at this juncture.
Many felt the trustees were not properly informed on the financial implications and enrolment projections, based on the questions trustees were asking of staff while debating the resolution.
“You all failed us 100 per cent. You failed us and you should be ashamed,” said Sarah Neukomm, a Rose Valley Elementary parent speaking after the resolution was adopted.
Neukomm said the discussion about choosing a name for the new middle school in the Mission was an agenda item at three different school board meetings, whereas the Westside grade reconfiguration resolution was discussed only on Wednesday night.
Parent Matt Whitt questioned the school district’s enrolment projections, noting that Mount Boucherie will continue to see growth beyond the five-year projected window for the grade reconfiguration initiative.
What are the contingency plans, he asked, if enrolment projections are off by even 10 per cent in 2022.
“Voting for this proposal tonight would start the clock ticking on a massive problem at MBSS in 3-5 years. By consolidating capacity constraints at MBSS, this proposal would paint the district into a corner while leaving no options to deal with continued growth. There simply isn’t another high school on the Westside to which students can be redirected.”
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