The limelight at city council's first meeting of 2010 was focussed, not on city issues, but on the School District 20 (SD 20) instead.
The SD 20 board has been seeking public input on its plans to cope with an anticipated $4-million budget shortfall, due to declining enrolment, in its document Planning for the Future.
City council members came under fire during Question Period at their regular meeting Monday night, as residents expressed disappointment in the city's response to SD 20 plans.
Resident Natalie Hipwell expressed concern that Castlegar residents may end up paying for council's refusal to be a squeaky wheel in the decision-making process.
“I felt that the city maybe wasn't as loud as they should've been,” Hipwell explained. “If Trail and Rossland continue to make so much noise while Castlegar is so silent, that might influence the school board to give Trail and Rossland what they want at Castlegar's expense. We've lost a lot of schools already, and I don't want to see Castlegar get the short end of the stick again for being the quiet one.”
Debbie Bayoff, on the other hand, said she felt the larger issue was a lack of public consultation, pointing out that SD 20's Planning for the Future document has been on the table for almost a year, without the city seeking any response from residents as to how they feel about the changes suggested.
“The city council received a letter from (SD 20 superintendent) Jean Borsa on Jan 18, 2009,” Bayoff said, adding that city director of planning and development Phil Markin, on March 2, brought a report forward to council summarizing the SD 20 material. “From that meeting, there was no further mention of )the issue) until Dec.7, when they decided two councillors should attend a Jan. 5 public meeting hosted by the school board.
“At no time did the city council consult the public to ask for any input,” Bayoff added. “I have a problem that they didn't come to the public that elected them to see what they felt. There was no dialogue at all.”
Both Bayoff and Hipwell also indicated they were left by the impression, by a letter of support sent by council to the SD 20 board, that council supports the board in its ultimate decisions – regardless what those decisions may be.
Councillor Kirk Duff said he understands how the misconception arose, but nothing could be farther from the truth.
“If (when the SD 20 presents a draft plan) at that point, we don't agree with it, we will certainly be voicing our concerns,” Duff said. “For now, though, (the board has) a tough job ahead of them and we (council) need to get out of their way and let them do it.”
He said critiquing the SD 20 now is premature, given that a draft plan hasn't yet been presented.
McInotsh concurred, saying that resident concerns about SD 20 scenarios should be brought to those duly elected to hear and act on them – namely, the board of education, not city council.
“They have their own elected board of trustees to deal with school district issues and represent their electorate,” she said. “That's why we elected them. It shouldn't be up to the city to hold those public consultation meetings, it should be up to the school board.”
Furthermore, she said, beign the “squeaky wheel” is just not how city council wants to do business.
“Do we (the city) have the money to bail them out? No. Do we have any better solutions? No. We have to look at the bigger picture here,” she said. “That means the best possible education for all kids in the district, not just for Castlegar students. We're not going to finger-point and rant and rave and bully our way to getting what we want.”
The SD 20's Planning for the Future document can be viewed at www.sd20.bc.ca , along with more than 100 submissions from residents and stakeholders offering input into the plan.