Lake Cowichan community prefers none of the above
The answer to the question posed by the Cowichan Valley School District to the community of Lake Cowichan Saturday was inconclusive.
But the message delivered by the community was not: closing schools is not the answer.
“If school closures were the answer, we wouldn’t be in difficulty now,” said Diana Gunderson, referring to a series of school closures that have already hit the lake area.
In its bid to address a $3.7 million budget deficit and cope with declining enrollment the district is considering a number of options. In a community meeting at Lake Cowichan Secondary School Saturday, superintendent of schools Joe Rhodes, secretary-treasurer Bob Harper, and appointed interim trustee Mike McKay presented two that most directly affect the Cowichan Lake area.
in both cases, A.B. Greenwell Elementary school would be closed. One option would move the Grade 5 students from Palsson to the middle school at Lake Cowichan Secondary School. The other would move the Grade 4s and 5s from Palsson to form a more extended middle school at LCSS.
According to the school district’s statistics, enrolment in the Cowichan Lake area has declined by 25 per cent in the past five years.
That didn’t seem to faze audience members, many who had come specifically to ask what had become of the school district’s promise for a new elementary school at the Lake.
“These are complex issues,” McKay told a crowd that was significantly smaller than the one that attended a similar meeting in December. “It’s not only a matter of increasing costs in the district, it’s a matter of declining enrolment, and we are funded according to the number of students we have enrolled.”
“You say the district will save $200,000 by closing down (A.B. Greenwell ) but that is nothing,” said Lake Cowichan businessman Rod Peters. “That’s not enough to warrant closing down a school.”
The decision to close A.B. Greenwell, located in the former Yount Elementary School at Youbou, rather than Palsson Elementary School in Lake Cowichan also raised questions, with Palsson already suffering from a lack of space, structural issues and asbestos.
“Palsson School is in as bad shape now as (the original) A.B. Greenwell was when they shut it down (a few years ago due to mould),” one parent said, commenting also on the many attributes the one school has over the other.
“(Palsson) seemed to be the obvious choice because of its location in Lake Cowichan,” replied Harper.
“So does that mean you chose location over the health of our children?” asked another parent.
Some were perplexed at how the school district could say it would be saving money by closing down a school when Harper agreed that it would take a certain amount of investment to make the proposed changes to both Palsson and LCSS work.
Tristan Renaud, a Grade 8 student at LCSS, said he agreed with the comments of parents who feel that having younger children in the middle school is not right, because they will inevitably be exposed to things older children do and say long before they need to be.
A complete report on SD79’s operations, projections and budget details can be found here.
— Elodie Adams