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Castlegar trustee responds to criticisms

 Dear Editor, 

This letter is in response to (a series of articles and commentary in local media, inlcuding a letter written by Roland Vogel).

Mr. Vogel, as far as I am aware, appears to be the voice of people in the Glenmerry area. He is fairly representative of the views of Trail concerning Trail’s place amongst our local communities. I will not respond to the various partial truths contained in his letter, as that would require a whole article, not a simple letter to the Editor.

In the fall of 2009, the Board of Education (the Board) received from its staff a proposal that Glenmerry School be combined with Webster School, thus saving the cost of operating one older elementary school in the south end of the school district.
 
Mr. Vogel called that proposal "ridiculous" and demanded that the Board immediately drop any consideration of the proposal.
 
On Dec. 14, 2009, Mr. Vogel went to Trail City Council to request that the City Council demand that the Board of Education postpone its review process and that it not close any community school within the City of Trail. In response to Mr. Vogel’s request, Trail City Council, even before consulting with the School District, passed a motion calling the Board of Education inequitable and requesting that the Ministry of Education immediately intervene in the review process As it happened the Board, after reviewing the staff proposals and on its own, decided not to close any community elementary schools.
 
The latest scenarios presented to the Board contain closure of schools in Castlegar and Rossland. Sometime during the past year, Mr Vogel and the Trail City Council have experienced a strange conversion in their opinion of the Board’s review process. They now support the latest proposals presented to the Board of Education and want the Board of Education to immediately close schools. That is, schools not located in the City of Trail. Three trustees on the Board who live in Trail have requested that the Minister intervene and carry out school closures, that is, in areas not in the City of Trail. Furthermore, the dissenting minority of school trustees, want the Minister of Education, whether the Minister dissolves the Board or not, to put the head of the chairman of the present Board on a stick.
These trustees want no further education reviews about how we should manage our schools and employ our staff. Their solution to all problems is to close schools in other communities, but not in Trail. Also where possible, children will be bused to schools in the City of Trail. This action they consider as fiscally and educationally prudent. How is closing classrooms at Castlegar Primary to move kids 100 feet into portables, or closing Blueberry Creek which serves the educational and social needs of the children in the south end of Castlegar prudent? That is just not explained. In the meantime, the most expensive facilities including Sunningdale School (which has zero students) and the Trail Middle School (which is the most expensive facility in cost per student attending) - both of which are located in Trail - remain on the books of the School District and are off the list of facility closures.
 
Trail’s solution to all the problems facing our school district is to close schools in other communities and move students and financial resources to Trail. The 800 pound gorilla, in all decision-making concerning the Planning for the Future document, is Trail’s philosophy which appears to be "What is mine is mine – what is yours is also mine". Schools in Trail are for the educational betterment of "all students", while schools not in Trail take away resources from "all students".
 
I know of no city in the Kootenays, in B.C., or indeed in all of Canada, which is asking the government to close schools in another city and then bus those kids into its own schools. I know of no Board of Education in B.C. where a group of trustees on the Board, after losing a vote and an election at the Board meeting, petition the government to immediately preserve schools in their city and close schools in another city. Only in Trail – you say?
 
As intimated by the editorial, the trustees on the Board are not the source of the educational divide in our school district. The division resides in our communities – the Board and its membership are but the mirror of the opinions of our communities. The Board has no power to remove this division, it can only try to function within it while attempting to fulfill its mandate, that is, to best serve the education needs of all our children. Only the residents of our communities can heal the division. We must be honest with each other if we ever want an honest solution to our division. At some point, the trustees and their communities must sit down at the table and discuss what must be done to make us accept the necessary education change throughout our school district.
 
The major fact to keep in mind is that the Planning for the Future PFF documents are not decisions of the Board of Education. They are only working proposals created by staff for the Board to review. Only when the Board makes a final decision on any proposal will that proposal be incorporated into a working plan for School District #20.
 
At this point, I can only speak the truth as I see it. The present PFF document is incomplete in that the Board of Education has not had the time to fully assess the effects of our decisions to our communities and our staff. We need time to understand these effects. Otherwise our only recourse is to protect what we have before considering what may be in the future. As a personal example of this dilemma, I cannot vote in favour of any motion which closes classrooms in the Castlegar area while keeping open what I presently consider to be questionable facilities in Trail. The people of Castlegar and area are fair-minded people. We do not expect special treatment, but we do demand fair treatment in any decision concerning the services available for children in this community.
 
Mr. Vogel states that school trustees in Castlegar "may not receive a welcome response from the parents and community members" of Castlegar. When I explain what we are facing, the parents and community leaders of Castlegar and area express to me that it is time to say to Trail that Trail’s vision of a "Greater Trail" at the expense of everyone else is not shared by people in this part of our school district. We do not look for a fight, but neither will we accept being educationally, fiscally and politically pushed around. As we try to stop bullying in our classrooms, so must we try to stop political bullying in our communities.
 
Mickey V. Kinakin
 
School Trustee from Area I and J