Cowichan News Leader

Somenos Rural Traditional pegged for closure in district's new configurations

Liz Compton, vice-chair of the Parent Advisory Commitee of Somenos Rural Traditional School, challenges School District 79 officials about the possible fate of the school that
Liz Compton, vice-chair of the Parent Advisory Commitee of Somenos Rural Traditional School, challenges School District 79 officials about the possible fate of the school that's listed under three different scenarios for closure.
— image credit: Don Bodger

Alarm bells went off for Liz Compton when Somenos Rural Traditional School was left off a list of all elementary schools in the Central zone during last Wednesday's School District 79 meeting.

The co-chair of the school's parent advisory council almost jumped out of her chair when she noticed the oversight on a slide on the overhead projector. Compton was assured it wasn't forecasting anything, but then her worst fears were realized.

When the three options for reconfiguration being considered by the district were shown, the end result was the same for Somenos Rural Traditional School: closure.

"We're the only school up there in every single option,'' Compton pointed out during question period at the meeting.

"We are not a small school with low enrollment. That is not a true picture of our community.''

"I will be meeting with the Somenos community,'' official trustee Mike McKay said. "I am not going to give quick responses to something so fundamental.

"Somenos is on that option list, but that does not mean the closure of Somenos is a given. I will be connecting with the Somenos community so we get to a better place on a foundation by which to build.''

Compton took some solace from McKay's comments.

"I still have hope,'' she said a day after the meeting.

"Everyone has a different opinion of what's going on in the district. We're of value to the district. I always have hope. I have to.''

Compton admitted she's concerned and more than a little disappointed at seeing the fate of Somenos hanging in the balance.

"All of this is happening without an elected board,'' she said. "It makes it so much harder for us.''

Compton said a presentation was given last October 3 to McKay, highlighting Someonos' location, size, program, environmental focus, uniforms, the community itself and much more.

"It's just an outline why we believe Somenos Rural Traditional School is an important part of the district,'' she said. "We never got a response from the district.''

Perceptions of a small enrolment and the school being run-down are false, Compton said. "Our enrolment has steadily increased.''

There are 98 kids at the school currently in four divisions.

"That's not the actual picture,'' Compton said. "We turned kids away last year. There's no room. The district closed our classroom. We could have filled the school.''

Compton said one of the teachers was relocated to another school and a classroom closed in May. As a result, the school can't accept any more out-of-catchment kids, she added.

The school district's report Today, Tomorrow and the Road Ahead suggests the Somenos program does not appear to be gaining in size as the staff and parents had hoped.

"On average, between four and six out-of-area requests are put forward for approval each year,'' the report indicates.

The report goes on to mention the facility is in need of significant repair. Complete replacement of the domestic water supply and building envelope are two major projects.

Capital expenditures that would be avoided in the next five years if the school closed are estimated at just shy of $500,000.

The Rural Traditional Program is pegged for relocation to Alex Aitken in two of the restructuring scenarios.

Alex Aitken is full already, Compton said, so it would be impossible to fit more kids in there. "There's more questions than answers at this point.''

Compton has a hunch about the district's plans regarding reconfiguration.

"Of course, I'm very biased and jaded,'' she said.

"I think they want to close the little schools quick and easily and move on with configuration — maybe not. There's no timeline. How do you plan for anything?

"Because there's so many questions, there's no timeline, it makes me really wary what the heck they're doing.''

May is not the time for closures, Compton stressed.

"It should start in October, November. That's why I think it's kind of about the closure, not the rest of it.''

 

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