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School district 79 implementing an elementary-secondary configuration

Superintendent Joe Rhodes announces reconfiguration for School District 79 during Wednesday night
Superintendent Joe Rhodes announces reconfiguration for School District 79 during Wednesday night's meeting at Cowichan Secondary School.
— image credit: Don Bodger

Six schools from the original list of 10 considered will be closed as part of School District 79's restructuring to a Kindergarten to Grade 7 elementary and Grade 8 to 12 secondary configuration.

A.B. Greenwell, Ecole Mill Bay, Koksilah, Somenos and Yount Elementary Schools will be closed as of June 30 and the Charles Hoey Victoria Cross facility as of Dec. 31, it was announced Wednesday night at Cowichan Secondary School.

Alex Aitken, Crofton and Alexander Elementary schools were all spared. Duncan Primary will continue to house Cowichan Valley Open Learning Cooperative that will also access facilities at Duncan Elementary.

A budget of $81,835,263 being given first and second reading for 2013-14. Third and final reading will be given at a subsequent meeting.

There was very little reaction from the crowd that packed into the Cowichan Secondary School gym as the new configurations for each of the north, west, south and central zones for the 2013-14 school year were made public after much anticipation.

"I've been through school closures before, but never with the complexity that exists in the Cowichan Valley,'' said Superintendent Joe Rhodes.

Despite that, "I have ample confidence we'll be in a better place going forward than we're in today.

"When I review the challenge with my heart, I struggle. I know the value of place. I know the commitment many, many people have given to develop 'place.'''

The most important part of the restructuring, Rhodes said, and reiterated by official trustee Mike McKay, was to maintain the best possible services for students.

"The focus is on the road ahead,'' said McKay. "The focus is on making sure we have the capacity to deliver programs and services to all of our kids.

"This will be an emotional evening,'' he conceded. "I'm asking for your respect for each other. Our challenge is simple. We have more priorities than resources we have to deal with those priorities.''

Other major announcements included: a transportation levy of $200 per student for all bus riders as of September.

A second child from the same family will pay a reduced rate of $120. The rate will be $80 for a third child to a maximum of $400 per family per year.

Details on the implementation of the bus fees will follow. There will be a consideration for financial need.

The district even looked in its own office as a means to save money. A plan will be devised to sell the board office and relocate to other district sites.

One suggestion was the office would be a suitable site for relocation of the North Cowichan-Duncan RCMP detachment.

The senior management structure will also be changed, Rhodes announced, by reducing the number of education directors from three to two and reallocating the duties to other positions, effective July 31.

The one individual affected will be reassigned to develop the trades program on a part-time basis.

"The district will continue to review the management structure as employees retire or resign,'' Rhodes indicated.

Through all the meetings during the past 90 days, much longer than the provincial election campaign Rhodes pointed out, district senior staff worked hard with McKay to arrive at its complex decisions.

"I think that is a factor we need to consider going forward,'' said Rhodes of the long time frame that left so many teachers, students and other people associated with the schools on the chopping block hanging.

"We have managed to focus on what is important which is kids and their future,'' said McKay. "We need to establish a framework that's sustainable over time and we believe we are doing that.''

"When the proverbial dust settles, we in the district will be in a better place and support our vulnerable learners,'' said Rhodes.

"What this process has revealed we have a community divided,'' said Rhodes. "Moving forward, we need to work together.''

Many people spoke passionately at previous meetings about the need to maintain middle schools for a variety of reasons.

"That is at the heart of the struggle that we had to wrestle with,'' Rhodes said.

"We know middle school years' education could be done well outside of a middle school structure.''

The result of the K-7, 8-12 format means virtually no change in the north end. But the other zones have a variety of changes, new catchment areas, slightly different school names and more.

Along with structural change, there will be educational change, he said.

McKay acknowledged the funding formula as it exists with the province needs to be fixed "so we get to something that's sustainable over the long term.''

McKay said there is still some work to be done.

"We have never said the decisions made will solve everything,'' he said.

"Yes, there will need to be other reductions. We will try to keep the reductions away from the classroom as much as possible.''

 

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