Mar 2,2007 - Tricity News

By Sarah Payne The Tri-City News
Mar 02 2007

While local school trustees were deciding to close five elementary schools Tuesday night, Port Moody councillors decided that municipal governments and school boards aren’t playing on a level field.

There needs to be “meaningful consultation” with municipalities before school boards make a decision that would affect a city’s official community plan, or create a financial, social or environmental burden on the city, according to a motion passed by PoMo council.

That resolution, along with a second one calling for greater parity between the School Act and the Community Charter for in camera (closed door) meetings, will be sent to the Union of BC Municipalities and forwarded to the provincial government.

“Families won’t move to the area if there isn’t a school,” Coun. Meghan Lahti said in an interview. “We’re concerned about the ripple effect on Port Moody’s financial bottom line.”

Coronation Park elementary, near Inlet Centre, is one of the five schools to be closed at the end of this school year because of declining enrolment (College Park elementary will also be closed). But PoMo council has maintained that School District 43’s calculations are wrong and that new and future developments, such as Klahanie and Suter Brook, will reverse the trend.

Lahti said that pre-purchase statistics from developers Polygon and Onni show that one in three units will be occupied by families with young children.

“The school board has their own calculators for highrise and medium-density developments but they’re not asking about the size, number of bedrooms, grandparent suites, in-suite laundry or whether they’re ground-oriented,” Lahti said. “All those attract young families who can’t afford single-family homes but want to get into the market.”

Port Moody council hoped to make that point in a meeting with board members; council sent four invitations, each of which was turned down.

“The school board asked to meet with the city in October but there was no response,” said board chair and PoMo trustee Melissa Hyndes. “It wasn’t until well into the process that they requested, on very short notice, to get together with the board.”

Hyndes said each invitation called for a meeting at a date and time that didn’t work for board members’ schedules, adding that information sessions for city councils on Jan. 10 and 11 were attended by councillors Shannon Watkins, Mike Clay and Bob Elliott.

Hyndes noted that a meeting between the two bodies is planned for next week.

Still, PoMo council wants part of the School Act changed to reflect provisions in the Community Charter, which stipulate all meetings must be open unless discussions fall into a specific category, such as property, employee relations or litigation.

The School Act states boards can close a meeting to the public whenever they feel it’s necessary but School District 43’s board policy manual clarifies that legal, student, personnel and property issues — such as school closure discussions — will be dealt with in camera.

Port Moody council is also recommending a section be added to the School Act that would require consultation with municipalities before decisions are made that affect the city’s operations. Where necessary, it would also require school boards to compensate municipalities when: the decision conflicts with the city’s official community plan or if the decision results in a financial, social or environmental burden on the city.

If closing a school means the city must build or upgrade roads and sidewalks to provide new routes to schools, that’s a significant financial hit that should be recognized by the school board, council agreed.

“It’s hard to put a number on the social impact but let’s at least recognize there often is and will be an impact to the community when you take a community school out,” Lahti said. Environmentally, she added, the city takes a hit as kids who previously walked are now being driven to and from school by their parents.

“There needs to be a recognition that these decisions have a ripple effect,” said Lahti. “The school board doesn’t operate in a vacuum. They’re not an island — we want to work in partnership with them.”