Neighbourhoods of Learning Committee faces an imminent end to city funds

Andrew Bennett
By Andrew Bennett
May 4th, 2013

Council will maintain funding to the Neighbourhoods of Learning Committee (NOL) for 2013, but that may be it for city funds as the municipality faces budget constraints and council begins to reconsider its educational role in a post-K-12 Rossland.

Coun. Jill Spearn, an elementary school teacher and council’s representative on the , moved that the city continue to fund the NOL at $15,000 per year. She later agreed to a friendly amendment to reduce this figure by five per cent.


“The NOL is still vital and is engaged with a number of projects to keep K-12 in Rossland, if not a public system as we know it,” she said. She characterized the committee as “volunteers for the most part” with a “mandate to work tirelessly” towards its goal. “Is the committee waning? No.”


The city funds support a paid coordinator who, Spearn said, “has worked for the last two months without getting paid,” since emergency council funding in January injected $5000 into the NOL “to get through two critical months,” but which was depleted by March.


Others on council were not convinced. Mayor Greg Granstrom asked, “If we provide an alternative to public school, and we remove them out of public school, could it jeopardize [what remains] of public school here? Can they close RSS? Will they take our 8s and 9s down the hill?”


Coun. Kathy Moore said it was still a “hot topic,” and “they still do good work.” “The conversation wasn’t completely dead, let’s give them one more year to finish that off.”


Nevertheless, Moore admitted to concerns: “I don’t know where that’s going.”


Coun. Jody Blomme said, “This one is another one where, if we took away funding, it wouldn’t die. There are volunteers working away.” She added broader concerns: “I don’t know if this council funding NOL builds a good relationship between us and other levels of government”


Spearn countered, “This is not just about education, it’s about sustainability.”


Reflecting on the evening’s decision to axe the Sustainability Commission manager—a decision Spearn strongly opposed—she said, “We need to have the coordination around this group to keep the momentum to succeed.”


“We haven’t found the ultimate solution for our community,” she said, “but I’m confident we will. [NOL] is a group embodied in every person in this community in one way or another. A coordinator is worthwhile for our whole community.”


Coun. Kathy Wallace was not convinced. “I agree, K-12 is the best solution for this community, but now it’s gone beyond our control. If we fund this and continue down this path, then we’ve entered a different land, we’re supporting beyond our jurisdiction and playing into continuing deteriorating relationships between Rossland and the other communities. I’m torn by that and not sure how to proceed.”


Wallace felt NOL should receive support “to finish up what they’re doing,” saying her position was “balanced on the fence, but I probably can’t keep doing that for very long.”


Coun. Cary Fisher asked for clarity: “We’re looking at a private potential, is that what we’re doing?”


Spearn said, “There’s an Independent School Act in BC, and there are many independent schools. I wear many hats, one in the day where I support the public school system, for which we worked long and hard. Now we have to look for other solutions, and those can be comprised of working within the Independent School Act.”


Spearn disagreed that the issue had “gone beyond our control,” as Wallace had said. “It hasn’t gone beyond our control, it’s just changed, that’s all. Do you give up and stop? No.”


Fisher said, “I’d be in support of it, but … the next phase of this, however, is a little dicey in my mind. The general community really supported a public school option…there was support for the idea of looking at an independent school, but now the school district decision is finalized, is the community going to say, I’m going down there? Do we have demand for it now that it’s gone?”


He gave the example of French Immersion for which about 40 people expressed interest, but only 19 actually signed up until a concerted campaign drummed up more students.


“French Immersion is up here, that’s cool, that’s great. But it took a huge effort,” he said, implying a similarly challenging path for an independent school.”


Spearn said NOL’s focus was broader than just an independent school, and includes ways to cross the “gap,” exploring “interim solutions” until the population of students catches back up or the province’s funding formula changes.


Coun. Tim Thatcher said, “K-12 is the best scenario for Rossland. I think we should continue support until all ideas are exhausted.”


Blomme reiterated her concern with the “optics” of the city funding the NOL “when it’s potentially taking away from system that we’re meant to be defending and supporting.”


Spearn responded, “The public school board has abandoned us, they’ve taken our children.”


The motion passed with Blomme and Wallace opposed.


Please note: all council decisions at a COW, as related here, are considered recommendations pending official ratification at a “regular” meeting, the next of which is on May 6. Other articles detail decisions made at the same meeting on debt financing for Columbia-Washington, a total cut to the Sustainability Commission, and minor cuts to other community groups

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