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Dec 15,2006 - TriCity News

By Diane Strandberg The Tri-City News
Dec 15 2006

Coquitlam school district’s policy on school closures leaves trustees too little time to consider the issues for all eight schools, says Port Moody trustee Keith Watkins.

Watkins said the policy, which requires a decision before March 1 in keeping with budget and school scheduling timelines, is meant for one school, not a “revamping” of the district.

His comments are in line with those of some parents at schools facing possible closure who say the timeline is too short and meetings are scripted so parents can’t talk directly to trustees about their concerns.

“They want us to listen to them but they are going to listen to us in a more controlled way,” said Reece Harding, a parent at College Park. He wrote a letter to school superintendent Laureen Doerksen (see page A11) laying out his concerns about the school closure process, including the initial meeting, which was described as a discussion on declining enrolment. He said parents want to be able to speak to trustees as a group and show why their school is integral to the neighbourhood, which has few other public amenities. The planned break-out sessions between parents are too scripted, he said.

Those meetings begin the week of Jan. 8 and will be held at each school to give parents a chance to consider all the issues, including the possibility that their children might get a better education at a larger school with more resources, said Coquitlam trustee Gerri Wallis.

“Once these facts are put to the public, there’s certainly an opportunity for parents to come to a public meeting,” said Wallis, who urged parents to consider the pros and cons of relocating their children before making a decision. If parents still prefer their neighbourhood school, she’s willing to consider the reasons why, she said.

Port Coquitlam trustee Debra Burton said she understands parents’ frustration and agreed the timeline is short. But in an email interview, she said, “The last thing we want to do is to have a long, drawn-out process with the prospect of a school closure hanging over the heads of students, parents and staff for months on end. That would only make matters worse.” She also said parents can call trustees to talk about their concerns.

An advertisement in today’s Tri-City News (see page A8) urges just that. Dave Ginter, president of CUPE Local 561, which purchased the ad, said parents aren’t being given enough time or opportunity to be heard.

The ad says the school district doesn’t need to close schools because it ended the last school year with a surplus and there are no empty classes. Closures would also mean 68 fewer support staff in District 43 and dislocated students would spend much more time travelling to school.

Ginter said parents to whom he has talked want trustees to come to the meetings. “There are a lot of sad stories,” he said, noting that some disadvantaged students may lose access to a free lunch program if they move to another school.

Meanwhile, Watkins said the district should look at long-term issues involving all older schools in established neighbourhoods because student numbers are declining everywhere, schools need costly repairs and empty rooms could be used for other programs.

A decision on closing schools shouldn’t be based on short-term budget needs “it should be based upon utilization in a long-term plan,” Watkins said, adding that if the provincial government can find money for other capital projects, such as the Olympics, it should be able to fund school repairs.

Elementary schools under consideration for closure are: Coronation Park, College Park and Moody in PoMo; Vanier, Millside, Mountain View and Meadowbrook in Coquitlam; and Lincoln in PoCo.

After two more rounds of school meetings, a public meeting is set for Feb. 20, with the school board expected to make a decision Feb. 27.

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