Brand-new Crofton school could be closed under restructure plan
A steady decline in student enrollment could mean some drastic changes for the valley’s north-end schools.
But a proposal to close the brand-new Crofton Elementary School and transform Chemainus Secondary School into a combined middle and high school was not greeted warmly this weekend by area parents.
Administrators from School District 79 met with the public Saturday, at Chemainus secondary to discuss potential solutions to SD79’s anticipated budget deficit of $3.7 million for 2013.
Official trustee Mike McKay, superintendent Joe Rhodes and secretary-treasurer Bob Harper spoke to parents and teachers about a series of options being considered.
The one with the biggest potential effect on the Chemainus area would see Chemainus and Thetis Island elementary schools shifted to kindergarten to Grade 5, Crofton elementary — built in 2009 — closed, and Grades 6 to 8 taught at a new middle school housed under the same roof as a high school catering to students in grades 9-12.
That option would cut the enrolment capacity in north-zone schools from 1,143 to 961 spaces, reducing expenditures by $350,000 per year, said Rhodes.
Enrolment in north-zone schools has declined steadily since 2007 and now stands at 715 students. Officials expect enrolment to continue to decline until it reaches a new plateau in the low 600s by 2016.
Katie Robertson lives in Crofton, but her children attend Chemainus Elementary School. Nevertheless, Robertson questioned the logic of closing the Crofton school and expressed concern for the long-term impact the closure would have on the community.
“That’s a brand-new school and it’s full,” Robertson said, “and it’s one of the only things thriving in the town as it is. The school and the mill are what make the town.
“With a 60-per-cent retirement rate coming up at the Catalyst mill, that’s going to bring in new families. If there’s no elementary school there, people will be less likely to live in Crofton, and they’ll simply commute to the mill instead.”
Robertson was also worried about the potential consequences of integrating younger kids into a school co-attended by high school students —a model currently used at Lake Cowichan Secondary School.
“My biggest concern is how you would separate the children,” Robertson said, referring to the proposal to house a middle school and high school within the current CSS building.
“I would be concerned with how well it’s implemented. They aren’t willing to tell us anything about what would be implemented until after they’ve already made the decision. I don’t feel that we’re given enough information to tell them our opinion when they don’t know what’s going to happen.”
McKay acknowledged that cuts and closures would impact affected communities disproportionately — “it will not be a matter of an equal distribution of pain,” McKay said — but he pledged to adopt a strategy that “is something we can sustain and that will support kids.
Restructure tour continues
Seeking solutions to its $3.7 million budget dilemma, School District 79 is on a 90-day public consultation process to determine how best to cut costs without compromising services to students. The district is considering closing or combining schools in each of its four zones as one possible solution to its budget woes.
March 2 meetings in Chemainus and Lake Cowichan will be followed March 9 with a 9 a.m. meeting at Quamichan Middle School and a 1 p.m. meeting at George Bonner Middle School.
Then SD79 will host a public forum for the entire district Tuesday, April 30 at 6:30 p.m. at Cowichan Secondary School to allow members of the public to offer comment directly to McKay.
Written feedback will be accepted by SD79 until May 7. Comments on SD79’s restructuring plans can be submitted to district administration via their website at www.restructure2013.sd79.bc.ca or by e-mail at email@example.com.
An official decision on school closures and grade reconfigurations will be made at a board of education meeting Wednesday, May 15.
District Superintendent Joe Rhodes said the expected deficit is a combination of decreased enrolment, increased MSP (Medical Services Plan) premiums and pension costs, a wage increase for employees and the loss of “a million bucks” the district will not receive next year once its funding protection runs out.