Unions representing staff at eight schools that could be closed in June were shocked to hear the news this week and say parents and staff should unite to keep them open.
A campaign to lobby trustees and inform parents is already underway, said Dave Ginter, president of CUPE 561, which represents School District 43 support staff.
“What these groups need to do is become a block, don’t get set against each other,” he said.
CUPE locals representing the SD43 non-teaching staff and city employees in Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam and Port Moody will be buying ads in local newspapers to get the word out, he said.
Four dozen CUPE jobs could be at stake and Ginter said he can’t understand why the district needs to close schools when it had a budget surplus last year. There are other areas that could be cut, such as free bus transportation to students who live within the district’s walk limit.
“This is not much different than the utilization of schools,” he said.
Ginter also expressed concern about the short timeline – board policy requires that the decision be made before March 1 – and criticized the district for not being more forthcoming about the purpose of last Tuesday’s special meeting.
“It’s kind of like false advertising,” Ginter said of the ads promoting the meeting for discussing declining enrolment only.
Kathleen Thomson, president of the Coquitlam Teachers’ Association, agrees that parents and staff should have had more notice before the decision was made.
“This was very sudden,” Thomson said about the trustees’ decision to consider closing eight schools at a special board meeting Tuesday. She said some teachers cried when they were informed by their principals the next day that their school was on the list.
“People get very attached to their schools. There’s lots of rallying around parents and teachers must do,” said Thomson.
She said she doesn’t blame school trustees but chronic underfunding of the school system by the province.
“I don’t envy trustees,” she said. “They’re in a difficult position.”
But Thomson said she hopes they’ll be prepared to listen to all the stakeholders because the older buildings that are on the list for possible closure are important to their communities.
“They tend to look at schools in areas where schools are important. They are a hub of activity,” she said, noting that closure is not a sure thing.
One Maillardville resident has already got her campaign going. Elizabeth Haldorson, whose children and grandchildren went to Millside, said she is setting up a petition and plans to start a protest to raise people’s awareness. Haldorson said the community will have nothing but casinos, pubs, movie theatres and bingo halls if the 100-year-old school goes.
“This is going against the whole thing they’re talking about the beautification of Maillardville,” she said.
According to the school district, eight elementary schools – College Park, Coronation Park, Lincoln, Meadowbrook, Millside, Moody, Mountain View and Vanier – were selected because their operational costs are high, they have 50% or lower utilization rates, are older buildings that may need major repairs and are located in a cluster of schools with less than 65% utilization, making amalgamation more feasible,
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/’02 could nearly double to 4,800.