Parents in Vancouver’s school district are anxiously anticipating tomorrow’s expected announcement of a short list of schools potentially facing the chopping block.
The Superintendent of Schools is expected to deliver a letter to the Vancouver School Board tomorrow afternoon identifying schools which could be closed.
As many as 21 schools could be taken off line by 2030 as part of their long range facilities plan, which aims to get district enrollment up to 95%, a provincial requirement for seismic upgrading cash.
Eight of those 21 would potentially be used as “temporary” schools for students displaced while their home school is getting upgrades.
School Board chair Mike Lombardi says the earliest a school would close would be September of 2017.
While the list could give a glimpse at potential schools facing closure, Lombardi says it would by no means be final, pending public input.
TIMELINE: Vancouver school closure process
Andrea Sinclair with the Parent Advocacy Network says tomorrow’s announcement may include a few surprises.
She says parents think the Vancouver School Board is expediting the process.
“Probably encompassing the list that was already released some weeks back now, that it’s that plus more. What I’m hearing is the number is greater than we had thought it was. It was 10 to 12, then it was 12 to 14, now it might be 15 to 18 or as high as 20.”
Sinclair says she also worries once the list is out it could have a panic effect on parents, causing them to move or try and get their kids in a school not already on the list and further exacerbating the problem.
Lisa Patterson has two kids at Dr. AR Lord Elementary, one in Grade two, the other in Grade five. She says the worry isn’t new.
“We’re all feeling a little nervous. My older child has been in the public system for six years now and there’s always been some sort of drama. We always have to fight for our right to our child’s education.”
Jessi Smith has a daughter in grade eight at Templeton Secondary, a school only at 54% capacity.
“I’m frankly nervous to sit down and have that conversation with her about what that means. What will happen if she’s in grade 10 or 11. You know, these are incredibly important years of your life.”
But while parents say they’re stressed about the possible closures, B.C.’s Education Minister is sounding a positive note.
Mike Bernier says there’s no doubt school closures are a sensitive topic. But he says he’s got a message for parents worried their kids’ school could be on the chopping block:
“Through amalgamation, through the opportunities though that will happen within Vancouver, there’s actually better education, better opportunities, and better programs for students.”
Bernier says demographics are working against the district, and the loss of bodies in classrooms means the district will have to make some tough calls.
“We have the long range facilities plan that’s required for all school districts. The Vancouver school district has seen about 6,500 fewer students over the last 15 years, so of course there’s some challenges they have to face, some decisions that need to be made.”
What about other possible past closures?
How far have some parents gone to save their school from the chopping block?
In 2002 the only school in Wells, a town in the Cariboo District , was slated for closure.
That was until a mother went on a hunger strike, forcing the district to sell the school to Wells for $1, and lease it back.
In 2004, parents occupied Forest Grove elementary in the Cariboo until an injunction was granted, and police moved in to make arrests.
Rallies and protests were more common in the Lower Mainland, where Richmond, Coquitlam and Langley parents protested the possible closure of schools due to declining enrolment and budget shortfalls.
In 2008 Comox parents went to court alleging their school district didn’t properly consult on a school closure, and won.
Enrollment, seismic condition
The district has been tight lipped about which schools could be on the list, however VSB Chair Mike Lombardi has admitted that enrollment and seismic safety are two of the seven factors being considered.
Enrollment at Vancouver Schools
Click a school to see its exact enrollment
The lowest enrollments are at Admiral Seymour elementary (28%), Macdonald Elementary (32%), in Vancouver’s northeast. The high schools with the lowest enrollment are Templeton Secondary at 54% and University Hill at 57%.
Lombardi however has been adamant that achieving a district wide capacity utilization of 95% is the key, and that high enrollment at a particular school won’t necessarily save it.
Low enrollment schools at seismic risk
There are currently 38 schools in the city that are both below 85% capacity and have not had any construction or planning work started for seismic upgrading. Eight of them are considered “high” risk in the event of an earthquake.
Click an individual school to see its enrollment and seismic risk
While these maps may provide insight into potential closures, Lombardi has previously told CKNW that they are no guarantee, and that there could be surprises on the list.
He says other factors the superintendent will be considering include whether there is a school nearby where students can go; nearby school’s capacities; whether out of catchment students can be accommodated at their home school; the condition of a particular school; and School Site considerations like facilities, proximity to major roads, or whether they could be used for something else.
Meanwhile, the NDP’s education critic is using the anticipated release of a list of potential closures to renew his call for stable, increased funding for the public school system.
Rob Fleming admits school districts across the province are put in tough positions, and was asked what he would do differently to boost funding.
Fleming skirted any specific solutions, instead pointing the finger at the Liberals.
“This government made choices, they passed a $230 million tax cut for the richest two percent of British Columbians in this budget. If we can afford tax cuts that are completely wasteful and they made a $54 million dollar cut on the public school system, it’s ridiculous. Those priorities need to be balanced out and I think the money can be found within the existing budget.”
Fleming says the province needs work with schools around unfunded cost pressures.