WBE Closure: Request for reconsideration

As noted in my update to the grant proposal, I was caught off-guard by the Board of Education's dismissal of the RDOS offer.  I assumed this was going to proceed in a very straightforward way:

  1. A rural school will not be considered for closure if it has a ~$150K grant
  2. The RDOS can raise such a grant for West Bench Elementary
  3. West Bench Elementary will not be considered for closure

 

The central premise is (1): rural schools with large grants are automatically exempted from consideration for closure.  As noted elsewhere, I based this on information provided by SD67 (see below).  There may be other issues at play.  But note that Naramata and Kaleden schools were never considered in any depth for closure so these other issues have never been surfaced.  The existence of the grant was sufficient, at least according to the public documents provided by SD67.

Because of this, I have requested that the Board of Education reconsider their decision to blow-off the RDOS proposal.  My letter to Chair Van Alphen is included below (with a few typos fixed).

 


Subject: Re: Proposed operating grant for West Bench Elementary

Date: Thu, 31 Mar 2016 11:25:24 -0700
From: Michael Brydon <mbrydon@rdos.bc.ca>
Organisation: Regional District of the Okanagan Similkameen
To: lvanalphen@summer.com
CC:whyer@summer.com, Manning, Ginny <gmanning@summer.com>, Bill Newell <bnewell@rdos.bc.ca>, Dan Ashton <dan.ashton.mla@leg.bc.ca>, Bill Bidlake (bbidlake@summer.com) <bbidlake@summer.com>

Hi Linda,

I was unable to attend last night's SD67 meeting due to coaching commitments.  But my understanding from reading media reports and talking to constituents who did attend is that the proposal for a grant from the RDOS was not seriously considered by the Board of Education.  I find this surprising and disappointing since the potential loss of a ~$150K grant has been--according to materials provided by SD67--the critical issue in the Board of Education's treatment of rural schools.  For example, the following is from he document distributed to the public at the 26 October, 2015, information session ( http://sd67.bc.ca/media/Challenge_Plans/October%2026%20Presentation%20Ha... p. 16 -- highlighting added):

Based on what I can tell, three rural schools in SD67 face roughly the same challenges in terms of enrollment and facility condition.  However, the availability of outside funding means that two of the schools (Naramata and Kaleden) were not considered for closure.  The purpose of the RDOS grant is to put West Bench Elementary School on the same footing as Naramata and Kaleden schools--that is, to remove it from consideration outright.  The failure of the Board of Education to do this strikes me as inconsistent.

As you certainly recognize, the stakes in this closure decision are very high.  The West Bench neighborhoods--with large lots and large houses--were designed for families.  A boarded-up elementary school makes the West Bench neighborhoods less desirable for families considering the area.  Thus, the large cohort of baby boomers that currently lives on the West Bench will face less demand for their homes at precisely the moment that they are looking to downsize.  Just a fraction of a percent drop in the market value of homes on the West Bench leads to losses that dwarf these grants.  It is not just kids that will be hurt by the closure of West Bench Elementary, but every property owner in these neighborhoods.  Not surprisingly, West Bench residents are looking for a solution.

For this reason I ask for reconsideration of the Board's decision.  After all, the RDOS grant proposal represents a significant new piece of information.

Regards,
/M  

Comments

The Secretary-Treasurer of SD67 has assured me that the RDOS proposal will be brought forward to the next meeting.  So this is good news.

The proposal for the potential grant will be added to the correspondence requiring action file at the next regular meeting of the Board which will be held April 11th at 6:30 p.m.

At this time the proposal will be discussed and considered by the Board, if the Board wishes to move forward with the proposal, there is an action to rescind the closure motion and bylaw currently on the books that would be required. 

Our household would be willing to pay a higher school tax but after the recent vote to close, isn't this too late?

As the Secretary-Treasurer of SD67 says above, " if the Board [of Education] wishes to move forward with the proposal, there is an action to rescind the closure motion".

SD67 did not consider the RDOS subsidy proposal at the 30 March, 2016, meeting because the proposal was seen as new information that came after deliberation but before final reading.  Like all governments, SD67 makes a clear distinction between its information-gathering stage and its decision-making stage.  This is only fair because no decision-making body wants new arguments and rebuttals and rebuttals to rebuttals coming in at the last minute.  This would make the decision overly sensitive to having the last word.

The Board of Education could have deferred its school closure decision but this would have entailed restarting the entire decision and public consultation processes (which is what the RDOS has done in such cases).  Instead the Board of Education chose to take a final vote on the school closure motion and deal with any follow-on information through their reconsideration/rescind processes.  So all this is simply SD67's approach to parliamentary procedure.  We might have done it a little differently at the RDOS but I certainly see the Board of Education's reluctance to prolong this district-wide debate.  People need to make plans for the coming school year and now they have some certainty (regardless of whether it is the outcome they wanted).

Here is where the RDOS subsidy proposal comes in.  SD67 has made the final decision to close multiple schools.  The RDOS proposal represents a significant change to the underlying economics for one of these schools  Hence the request for a new consideration of the specific merits of a subsidized West Bench Elementary School.

Joe Fries from The Herald asked me to comment on the outcome of last night's meeting.  I am not sure there is an outcome, but I did try to clarify a couple of things.  My email is below.


Hi Joe,

Sorry for the delay--in another meeting.  I have asked Bill Newell to follow up with SD67 to get a written response to the RDOS proposal.  At this point it is not completely clear to me what was decided at last night's meeting so I would prefer to see SD67's response in writing before commenting.  I understand quite a bit of new information was provided which may impact the entire school closure issue.

Having said that, you might recall from my letter to SD67 on 26 March that I led with the following question: "Is SD67 willing to keep West Bench Elementary open if an operating grant is provided?"  What we were seeking--and are still seeking--is an unambiguous answer yes or no.  There is a precedent for this request.  The Board of Education decided at the start of the school closure process to exempt Naramata and Kaleden schools from consideration due to their rural subsidies.  We are asking for the same clarity and decisiveness so that we may decide whether to move forward.

As I see it, the provenance of the rural subsidy is a separate issue.  Many rural schools are subsidized and this subsidy ultimately comes from pockets of taxpayers.  West Bench Elementary is currently not subsidized  by the province due to what some residents believe is an oversight in the eligibility criteria.  The RDOS proposal merely seeks to fill the subsidy gap until either enrollment growth makes subsidization unnecessary or a provincial rural grant is secured.

Based on my reading of your story in The Herald, it sounds like the Board of Education declined to answer the critical question above.  If so, it is problematic because the Regional District cannot proceed with the establishment of a new service based on a vague commitment to "discuss reopening" (your words).  We need a yes or no.  Again, I point to the clarity of SD67's Naramata and Kaleden decisions.

Of course SD67 has a parallel requirement for certainty and I recognize that West Bench Elementary might be closed until the RDOS subsidy is in place.  That is SD67's decision.  Whether it makes practical and economic sense to close and then reopen a school within a calendar year depends on one's expectation regarding voter assent on the West Bench. 

Finally, on timelines, I have posted a clarification from Bill Newell here.  The commitment would be for the 2017 budget year.

Let me know if you have any other questions.

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