District denies decisions have already been made for Lake school closures
There are no immediate plans to close any schools in the Lake Cowichan area despite concerns from the community.
"There's no decisions,'' said Cowichan School District 79 Superintendent Joe Rhodes. "There's nothing definitive being put on the table at this point.''
But declining enrollment and rising costs are a reality and among the topics up for discussion Saturday during a two-hour community consultation at Lake Cowichan Secondary School, beginning at 9:30 a.m. There's another meeting later in the day in Chemainus and two planned for George Bonner and Quamichan Middle Schools on Jan. 12, 2013.
"They are calling this a consultation process, and none of the questions that are going to be asked have come from the community,'' former trustee Duncan Brown told the Lake Cowichan Gazette.
"Everything that is being brought there has been brought there by them. So really what they're looking for is ratification of the decisions they've already made. They're looking for consent from the community — not even consent — they're looking for the appearance of consent by holding this consultation.''
Mike McKay, the official trustee for the district, who will be in attendance at the meetings as well as district staff, denied that was the case.
"I'm surprised that would be the conclusion people are jumping to at this point,'' he said of potential school closures.
Rhodes said a facility analysis report is being done for the whole district that will shed some light on the situation.
"We're awaiting a report from Hugh Skinner in terms of some potential options,'' said Rhodes.
"We've got the declining enrollment, diminishing resources blues. That's our dilemma. We're going to put that out and see what perspectives the community has.''
Brown said his concerns stem from 2003 when a series of scenarios were laid out to the board and school closures followed. And he's wary of eventual facility report findings.
"It makes me concerned the priority of an elementary school in Lake Cowichan will go by the wayside,'' Brown said.
Rhodes feels some hard questions will need to be answered.
"Are we maintaining buildings we shouldn't be maintaining?'' he queried. "Should we be disposing of buildings we have but there's nobody in them? It's an open agenda at this point. Every year we have less revenues and our expenses are increasing.''
The possibility of high school students being shipped to a new high school in Duncan is also raising alarm bells.
"We may have had a small graduation class last year,'' said Brown. "But that gym was full. Our community supports our school.
"We have the means, I believe, even in these restrictive times, to have a functioning education system at the Lake,'' he added.
"The reality is we want to maintain a viable high school out there,'' said Rhodes.
Brown was critical of McKay and how he will arrive at decisions that will strongly impact the community.
"Mr. McKay has no mandate for the community or is he accountable to the community in his role,'' said Brown.
"At the end of the day, my job is to hear the recommendations of staff and, at some point, make decisions,'' said McKay.
He added the periods of consultations will be a great way "to start to identify the priorities that are available to us.''
McKay said his hope is people who are engaged in the community will come prepared and bring their thoughts and commitments to the meeting.
"Mine is come out and defend our schools,'' said Brown.