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Feb 23,2007 -Now News

By Simone Blais - Staff Reporter

Echoing the anger and dismay expressed since the decision to close schools was made in November, several presenters at District 43's school closure meetings this week spoke vehemently against district processes and policies.

Mark England, a parent from College Park Elementary, told school trustees Wednesday that the school-based consultation meetings were frustrating, as "moderators acted more like censors," and he never felt his questions were answered.

"The consultation process has been flawed from the beginning. The criteria were met by the slimmest of margins," he said to applause in the gallery.

"The whole process smacked of deceit and poor timing in our eyes," Tracey England, also from College Park, said of the Nov. 28 decision to embark upon the school closure process.

Moody Elementary parent Lawrence McGillvray said, as a property manager of several buildings, he was surprised to see the lack of long-term planning for schools and education delivery.

"This whole process is so critically flawed," he said. "Why are you so frantic to close schools? _ There's no long-term or even medium-term plan here. It seems to be a three-month plan from start to finish. This is chaos as far as economic and social planning goes.

"We're being fed numbers by the provincial government and the school board that have been picked out of thin air."

Port Moody resident Samantha Kuypers, the mother of a child not yet in the education system, said the school closure process was predicated on information that doesn't ring true to her experience.

Kuypers said her family decided to move into one of the new Port Moody townhouse developments because of affordability, as well as proximity to schools. She said her family isn't alone - many young parents have moved to the area.

"There seems to be a perception that no one with children moves into condominiums and townhouses. I ask you to look at the Real Estate Weekly and take a look at the cost of housing these days," she said, adding that eight children in her townhouse unit are not yet of school age. More than 40 children in the entire complex haven't been factored in, she said.

"I'm here tonight because, according to your projections, we're nonexistent. The projections just show that there's something wrong with this consultation process. It's just wrong."

Local politicians from municipal and provincial governments also took the school district to task on its process.

Port Moody Coun. Meghan Lahti told school trustees their growth projections are off because district staff didn't ask for the right information.

"We provided up-to-date information to the school district when they asked for it. Were they the right questions to ask? No. Would we use that kind of information to plan our community? No," she said, adding that suites being built in new developments are larger to accommodate children.

"These suites are built for families. There are kids coming, trust me."

Port Coquitlam Coun. Michael Wright said parents were "surprised, confused, frustrated and angry" about November's decision, as well as the ensuing "lack of meaningful consultation" on closing schools.

"The basis of meaningful dialogue means sharing information," he said, adding that to get information, one city councillor resorted to submitting a freedom of information request for data "which should have been provided readily ahead of any such measures."

Wright also said that updated school enrolment projections arrived the day of school-based meetings, which doesn't allow for informed discussion in the community.

"It's hard to believe these figures were distributed the very night of school closure consultation," he said, adding that the process "lacked credibility and transparency."

Port Moody Coun. Mike Clay told trustees that while he understands that School District 43 is at the whim of Victoria for funding, new hope was presented during last week's throne speech - and school trustees should hold the Liberals to that pledge.

"The provincial government made a lot of promises two days ago, and frankly, if they are bluffing, then it's time to call their bluff," Clay said to resounding applause.

Whether or not additional funding does arrive from the B.C. government, Clay added, the school district needs to seriously review its procedures and policies on closing schools.

"This process is flawed," he said. "I don't think anybody is going to stand up here and say, 'Close the school because it bothers me being there.' There's got to be a better way to do this."

In a passionate speech, NDP MLA Mike Farnworth (Port Coquitlam-Burke Mountain) told trustees they shouldn't even be in the process of closing schools - instead, they should hold the government to account for funding seismic upgrades.

"A year ago, Lincoln was to be seismically upgraded. A year later, we're talking about closing it. What's changed? Nothing. It's still worth saving, it's still worth keeping," he said, adding that the argument applies to many schools on the closure list.

Farnworth said it was the provincial government that mandated the 70-per-cent capacity rule to determine if a school could be seismically upgraded as well as the 95-per-cent utilization rule to determine capacity.

"They've done a lot of mandating, but they haven't funded the construction of schools, the seismic upgrades, which they promised to do. I believe it's the board's mandate to remind them of that. Lincoln school needs to be rebuilt, it needs seismic upgrades, and the province needs to recognize that," he said.

"The provincial government has placed trustees and this board in a very difficult position, but this can only get better if you, as trustees, stand up and take a stand.

"What you also need to know is that we support you. We will be behind you. Whatever you need us to do - if you want us to gather petitions, we will. If you want us to go to Victoria _ we'll go. We are there for you. When the choice comes, know you are not alone. We will be there with you every step of the way."

Neal Nicholson, a candidate in the March 3 Coquitlam council byelection, said while he no longer has any children in the education system, parents contacted him with their concerns.

He said, after reviewing parents' complaints, he found fault with the data used to determine school enrolment, that parent advisory committees should be more involved in the process and that trustees "be present and participate" in all consultation meetings.

"We elected you; you have a responsibility to respond to our questions," Nicholson said, adding that "real dialogue" has been missing.

"We deserve more respect from this board. I request that you defer any decision until a truly consultative process takes place."

published on 02/23/2007

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