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Dec 1,2006 - Tricity News

By Diane Strandberg The Tri-City News
Dec 01 2006

Eight Tri-City public schools are being considered for closure as School District 43 grapples with declining enrolment and aging facilities.

At a special board meeting Tuesday night, trustees voted to begin consultation at eight schools this month and will decide Feb. 27 whether to close any of the schools in June.

The decision is not an easy one to make but it’s one that has to be made quickly to avoid creating even more anxiety and uncertainty, said board chair Melissa Hyndes. “We said we weren’t going to be re-visiting this issue. But since the declining enrolment, it’s been very clear that we can’t continue to do business in the way we have been,” said Hyndes, a Port Moody trustee.

Three years ago, SD43 shut down three schools and leased out the buildings, generating nearly $1 million a year in savings and lease payments.

Hyndes said trustees who supported the move don’t want to see schools close but said larger schools can provide better education opportunities and that money should be spent on students, not on fixing aging facilities.

“Smaller schools have difficulty in providing the kind of programs parents want,” Hyndes said, noting parents will be consulted throughout the decision-making process and that no decision will be made until all the information is in.

“They’re under consideration. That doesn’t mean all eight will be closed, that’s just the potential... it isn’t a done deal.”

The delicate process of informing schools and principals began as soon as the meeting concluded. Principals were informed Tuesday night and passed the news on to staff Wednesday morning. Letters went out to parents at the eight schools Wednesday afternoon and the district has established a lengthy series of meetings that begin Dec. 11.


Trustees had the option of delaying a decision until 2007/’08 but a majority voted to begin the process earlier “so we don’t create a lot of mystery out there,” said Coquitlam trustee Brian Robinson.

“I like the idea of not delaying what is inevitable,” he said, referring to the process of considering school closures.

But Port Moody trustee Keith Watkins said the district should look at a long-term plan instead because some schools may be worth redeveloping if population rebounds in the future. He opposed the motion to consider school closure and said trustees were simply bowing to political pressure from Victoria.

“Eight-five per cent of schools don’t meet provincial requirements of 95% utilization,” he said.

Anmore/Belcarra trustee Holly Butterfield, who supported the motion to consider closing eight schools, also wanted more time but she and Watkins were out-voted.

Port Coquitlam trustee John Keryluk voted for considering closures but objected to schools being named before parents could be consulted. “There may be other reasons for considering schools other than numbers,” he said.

SD43 secretary-treasurer Lorcan O’Melinn explained the eight schools were selected because they have 50% or lower utilization rates, most are older buildings that need major repairs, and they are located near other schools with less than 65% utilization, making amalgamation more feasible.

According to figures released Wednesday, the school district has been experiencing significant declining enrolment for the past six years and that trend is projected to continue. Since 2001, the district’s enrolment has declined by 2,500 students – 1,600 of them in elementary schools. By 2010/’11, the number of students lost to the district since 2001/’01 could nearly double to 4,800.

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