OPEN LETTER: Grappling with a 'terrible choice'

By Contributor
February 9th, 2013

Dear trustees

I am writing regarding the difficult decision facing you in regards to schools in Rossland. I urge you to consider a few additional points in making your decision. Your decision will affect the quality of education for all students in your school district. It is not just a Rossland issue! Parents and citizens from the whole area should be concerned and should have been consulted.

You are faced with a terrible choice. I understand that you are giving your time, energy and expertise with the best of intentions to upkeep the great legacy of public schooling in our communities. Since the last provincial elections though, many things have changed and you are now confronted with an impossible decision. I am certain that it has kept you up at night. You are trying to choose the option that will do the least harm to the education of all students in our region. In light of this week’s decision to abandon the K-12 option at RSS, I believe that the best decision is to house K-9 students at RSS. Please read on and consider my reasoning.

First, let me tell you that I am no stranger to our public school system, having been teaching in this province since 1995. Although not employed by SD20, I do teach in the community of Rossland. I may be able to speak more candidly than SD20 employees.

The basic problem faced by SD20 as well as many others is quite simple. Since our provincial government has unfrozen the basic funding to all districts with declining enrollment for the following school year, the district is bracing for a large cut in funds in its operating budget. Let’s focus on this and not confuse the issue with discussions of things that are capital budgets items. As you know, 88% of the operating budget is comprised of employee salaries. If the School District is to cut from its operating budget, jobs must be cut. But how can this be done, after so many cuts have already taken place?

The answer to that question is to be found in legislative changes made by our provincial government in the past year. This, I believe, is not well understood by citizens of our province. The BC Government has been planning drastic changes to our education system and has put in place the tools for school districts to cut operating costs. They have altered legislations to allow for the following:

  • no maximum number of students per class from grades 4 to 12
  • no restriction on the number of special needs kids allowed in a class
  • year round schooling is now possible
  • private organizations can now give credits that will count towards graduation (ie: a credit taken outside the school is a credit that the school does not have to provide and pay for)

We have started to witness the effects that these changes are bringing to our education system. An example is that SD 20’s secondary class average has gone up to 25 students per class. There are now more oversize classes and more multi-grade classes.

Should you choose to vote for the option of K-7 at MacLean School (therefore sending all grades 8-12 to Crowe), how will it affect the education of all children in the care of SD20? What will be the long-term impact of 200 children added to the high school in Trail?

In order to save on salaries, classes will have to get scheduled to overfull capacity, increasing yet again the class average for the district (and lowering the FTE). This is not good news for the education of our children. There maybe a few more options available for grades 11-12 students, but at what cost? Overfull classes where teachers can not possibly attend to the students who struggle and need more help; more special needs students per classes; children who are disconnected from their schools and frustrated with their learning; more stress and stress-related behaviors; more drug use; more vandalism; lower graduation rates; burned out teachers who will use their sick days; teachers and support staff going on stress leave and medical leaves, etc. All these ripple effects have a cost. That will be the cost of the K-7 option, should you choose it.

In addition, if you choose the K-7 option at MacLean and decide to use the Annex, there are 40 students from SD93 (Francophone School District) who will find themselves without a physical space to go to school. Strongstart will also have nowhere to go. Where will they all go? It is absurd to entertain the idea that, the French School Board would be willing to purchase RSS!

If you choose the option to keep K-9 in Rossland, you may have to look hard to cut monies elsewhere in your budget, but you will allow for some flexibility in the future. There will be room to grow as the mini baby boom gets of age to enter our schools. The French school is likely to rent or purchase MacLean. This would allow for plenty of room for them to share the space with Strongstart, and possibly to house primary grades there too, in a building that better meets their needs. You would also keep MacLean as an alternative should you need it later.

Please vote wisely. You find yourselves holding the future and the dreams of our communities in your hands. Think of the legacy that you want to leave. Do not be swayed by a short-term political agenda. I trust that you will make the right decision; that you will choose the lesser of all evils and work with District 20 staff to keep class sizes as small as possible and keep as many children as possible in their communities, where they are connected to their teachers and close to their families. I trust that you will vote to keep K-9 children in Rossland.


Michèle Desjardins


Categories: Letters

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