As discussed at the initial Public Consultation meeting, questions received from the public will be posted to this page:
WHY DOES SCHOOL DISTRICT 91 HAVE TWO SCHOOL BOARD OFFICES? THIS IS NOT THE CUSTOM THROUGHOUT THE PROVINCE. WITH ALL OF THE RENOVATIONS TO THE SCHOOL DISTRICT BUILDING IN VANDERHOOF IT MUST BE ASSUMED THAT THERE ARE NO PLANS TO CLOSE THAT OFFICE. WHEN DOES THE DISTRICT ADMINISTRATION PLAN ON CLOSING THE BURNS LAKE SCHOOL DISTRICT OFFICE? THE COST OF THE BUILDING, UPKEEP AND STAFF MUST BE CONSIDERABLE. I ALSO UNDERSTAND THAT A GREAT DEAL OF TRAVLE EXISTS BETWEEN THE TWO OFFICES.
- Nechako Lakes School District has only a single board office, which is located in Vanderhoof. Due to the geographic size of our district we do have office space in Burns Lake (at the old Muriel Mould School site) which is home to our Assistant Superintendent, Mr. Rick Pooley. Mr. Pooley is the primary district contact for the six schools in the Burns Lake area.
- That particular site also houses two of our IT staff members and is currently being converted to house the maintenance and bussing departments that service our ‘western’ schools. In addition to School District use of the Muriel Mould site, the district has rented space to a variety of Burns Lake community agencies. There are no plans to close this office.
- Please recall that SD 91 is the result of two previously independent school districts, SD 56 (Vanderhoof) and SD 55 (Burns Lake). Following the amalgamation of these two districts, the Board of the day determined that the Vanderhoof School Board office would be the official headquarters for the new district. In order to effectively manage a large and diverse school district, it is essential that we occupy additional space in the communities that we serve. None of these spaces is considered or designated as a Board Office.
- As per your question, there are no plans to close the Board Office in Vanderhoof.
- The geographical footprint of the Nechako Lakes School District requires extensive travel for a variety of our staff throughout the district.
MY QUESTION REGARDS THE SPECIFICS OF THE RENOVATIONS TO THE VANDERHOOF SCHOOL BOARD OFFICE. DURING THIS TIME OF "RECONFIGURATION" I BELIEVE THE PUBLIC WOULD BE INTERESTED TO KNOW WHERE THE MONEY CAME FROM FOR THE RENOVATIONS. WHAT WAS THE TOTAL COST OF THE UPGRADES AND RENOVATIONS DONE TO THE VANDERHOOF SCHOOL BOARD OFFICE IN THE LAST 12 MONTHS?
- The only renovation that has occurred over the last 12 months at the SD 91 Board Office has been the recent renovation of the Board Room ($34,000) and two new workstations in the front office area ($3000). Both of these projects were budgetted and costed from the General Operating Fund.
The following 10 questions were presented to the Board by the Prairiedale PAC during the April 15th, 2013 Board meeting:
#1: HOW CAN THE MAINTENANCE OF A SCHOOL BE NEGLECTED AND AT THE SAME TIME SAY THERE IS NO PLAN TO CLOSE THE SCHOOL?
The maintenance records that were shared with the Prairiedale PAC clearly show that maintenance has not been neglected at Prairiedale Elementary. Given the age of the building and reports from external consultants, optional capital upgrades were deferred until the Board could reach a decision. During the district wide budget meetings in 2010, the Prairiedale school community was notified that a decision around Prairiedale would need to be made in the next 3 – 5 years. In no way has the deferral of the capital upgrades jeopardized the safety of students and staff nor impacted the viability of Prairiedale as an operational school.
The deferral of capital improvements was a financially driven decision by the board and senior staff given the information that they had regarding both declining enrolment and the age of the building. The Board, as well as the Prairiedale School community, was aware by 2010 that a public consultation regarding all Vanderhoof schools would have to be initiated at some point and that is the process that we are currently in.
Similar to other SD 91 schools, Prairiedale Elementary does require upgrades and in the event that the Board chooses to keep the school open, they could direct district staff to complete these. However, in an effort to be financially responsible the Board felt it was prudent to hold off on the upgrades until such time as they were able to consult with the community regarding the future of the schools in Vanderhoof.
#2: HOW CAN THE DECISION TO CLOSE A SCHOOL BE MADE PRIOR TO A CONSULTATION, AS IT IS STATED IN THE SCHOOL ACT THAT ALL SCHOOL CLOSURES MUST BE PRECEDED BY A PERIOD OF COMMUNITY CONSULTATION?
No decision has been made to close any school and just because school closure is an option does not mean it will happen. For example, in 2002 the Board proposed the closure of both Mapes Elementary School and Babine Elementary-Secondary School and following public consultation meetings, those two schools were not closed.
District staff is responsible for keeping the Board informed about enrolment projections and school capacities as well as the condition of all SD 91 facilities, including schools. The Board and district staff have been able to predict for some time that the Vanderhoof area schools would eventually get to the point where enrolment was significantly lower than capacity. During the Budget consultations of 2010 the Board was very clear that this was coming and that given the age of the schools in Vanderhoof they would have to consider how to address both issues.
#3: HAS THE DECISION ALREADY BEEN MADE? WAS IT MADE IN 2008 WHEN THE ENERGY UPGRADES WERE COMPLETED AND PRAIRIEDALE WAS OVERLOOKED?
As stated above, no decision has been made to close any school. Given the age of the school building and engineering reports from external consultants, optional capital upgrades were deferred until the Board could consider a variety of reconfiguration options and reach a decision. Since that time, four out of the original seven trustees, being new to the Board, felt that they needed to review the situation in the context of all schools in the Vanderhoof area.
The Ameresco report, which has been provided to the Prairiedale PAC, outlines the energy savings program that was initiated for all SD 91 schools and buildings in 2008 and 2009. Ameresco was hired by the District to look for potential energy savings. This company made recommendations and guaranteed that if those recommendations were followed the district would achieve a set target of savings. If the target was not met then Ameresco would not receive their full fee for the project. As such, they were looking for projects that would bring maximal savings to the District.
Given the relative size of Prairiedale School the projected energy savings were small in comparison to other schools. Therefore, the return on investment would be insignificant. Other small schools were in the same situation. It must be pointed out that Mapes School did receive an energy upgrade as a result of the Ameresco project due primarily to the age and condition of their heating system.
#4: WHO MADE THE DECISION TO CUT BACK MAINTENANCE ON PRAIRIEDALE, THE SCHOOL BOARD OR THE SCHOOL DISTRICT ADMINISTRATION?
As answered in question 1, the maintenance records that were shared show that maintenance has not been neglected at Prairiedale Elementary. However, as also stated in question 1, given the age of the building and reports from external consultants, optional capital upgrades were deferred until the Board could reach a decision.
It is the responsibility of senior district staff to analyze district wide trends such as projected enrolments, enrollment trends by catchment areas, school capacity and utilization data, condition of district facilities, etc. These factors are considered annually when recommendations regarding district direction are provided to the board. The decision to defer optional capital upgrades such as windows and the gym floor were made by senior staff who are charged with making financially prudent decisions in the interests of the entire school district.
#5: WHY HAS THE SCHOOL BOARD BEEN SO RELUCTANT TO SHARE INFORMATION THAT IS IN THE PUBLIC DOMAIN? WHY HAVE WE HAD TO GO TO THE MEDIA AND THROUGH LEGAL MEANS TO OBTAIN IT?
There has been no reluctance on the part of the Board to share information and in fact all documents relating to Vanderhoof School Reconfiguration issues were made public on the SD 91 website within days of the consultation period start. Some stakeholder groups have asked why requests for information take longer than a few days and there are a few factors that influence how easily information can be accessed.
1. It should be noted that there is no district staff member specifically assigned to the Vanderhoof School Reconfiguration process as their main duties are to manage the entire school district.
2. Much of the information requested is collected at a school district level and not necessarily at a single school level and so to provide specific information for a school requires ‘reformatting’ of the data in order to ensure that data provided meets the specific request. It should also be noted that when information is school or issue specific and readily available, such as the Bill Woods Reconfiguration Report, it has been shared quickly.
3. Under the FOIPA structure, both the good of the public and the public organization have been considered when setting up the 30 day timeline to provide requested information. It should be noted that in no instance has the school district gone beyond 30 days in providing information.
4. Information requested just prior to the Spring Break holiday was delayed by the holiday itself.
The intent of the board was to ensure that all stakeholder groups had the necessary information to participate in the consultation process. The school district has complied with all requests for information whether they were from community members, parent or community groups, or FOIPA requests. We have not had any requests for specific reports from the media.
#6: WHAT HAPPENS TO THE SMALL SCHOOL SUPPLEMENT THAT THE SCHOOL DISTRICT RECEIVES FOR PRAIRIEDALE, SINKUTVIEW AND MAPES? PLEASE JUSTIFY THE USE OF THIS MONEY IF IT DOES NOT GO INTO THESE SCHOOLS?
The district receives annual funding from the Ministry of Education that is calculated on a variety of factors including overall district enrolment and unique geographic factors. Some of the funds we receive are targeted – meaning they must be spent in specific areas – and some are non-targeted. The small school supplement funding is non-targeted and therefore is within our general operating accounts, which help to operate all schools. In addition to the three schools noted above, the SD receives small school supplements for an additional 11 schools in the district.
#7: WHAT IS THE FULL EXTENT OF THE SCHOOL DISTRICT 91 BUSINESS COMPANY'S FINANCIAL CONNECTION WITH SCHOOL DISTRICT 91?
If there are future profits from the SD No. 91 Business Company these can then flow to the School District once all business company debts are repaid. If there are business company debts the District is not allowed to use any operating revenue (funds that come from the Ministry of Education) to service the debt.
While the business company does hope to be profitable, it is too soon to accurately predict revenues that may be available to the District.
#8: WHAT IS THE TRUE DRIVING FORCE BEHIND THIS RECONFIGURATION?
Vanderhoof area schools, as a whole, are operating under capacity which in turn impacts the efficiencies of the entire district. The District must plan for the future and as such we must look at the age and condition of schools and try to forecast any upgrading or replacement needs. In so doing we must also consider the number of students who attend our schools and where they live. We must constantly ask the question if we are operating our schools in the most effective and efficient manner.
If there is a need for a school replacement we must work with the Ministry of Education in this process. Two of the criterion they look at is the capacity usage data of our schools and where students live in relation to those schools. They do not consider each school individually but rather look at the overall capacity in a given community.
Vanderhoof does have some aging schools and the enrollment has declined at both the elementary and secondary levels. As such, it is clear that a Vanderhoof area Schools Facilities Plan is required to assist the District in future capital planning and allocation of limited facilities maintenance and operations funds.
It should also be noted that school reconfiguration is a process that is occurring for school jurisdictions globally given that decreasing enrollment is a common factor. Within British Columbia the reconfiguration process has occurred in many districts including Prince George, Williams Lake, Kamloops, Campbell River, Cowichan Valley, Port Alberni, Prince Rupert, Terrace, Quesnel and many, many more.
#9: IS THE END GOAL A NEW SCHOOL FOR THE TOWN WITH NO CONSIDERATION FOR WHAT IS LOST IN THE PROCESS?
The school district and Board are focused on ensuring success for all of our learners while continuing to operate a large system in the most efficient and sustainable manner possible.
Within this framework, the Board must be cognizant of projects the Ministry will support when major school renovations or replacements are required.
#10: WITHOUT KNOWING ON WHAT THE DECISION WILL BE BASED, HOW CAN THE COMMUNITY PROVIDE ANY KIND OF USEFUL INPUT?
As stated in Question #2, the School Act legislates that all school closures must be preceded by a period of community consultation.
During the process the Board has received significant input from the community through both our ‘Reconfiguration’ website and public meetings to which the Board was invited (specifically meetings of the Sinkut View and WL McLeod School Parent Advisory Councils.)
All suggestions received are forwarded directly to the Board for their consideration in deliberating a final decision.
At the May 6th public meeting, there will be a parent brainstorming session with parent representatives from each of the Vanderhoof schools followed by an opportunity for stakeholder groups to again present publicly.
WILL ALL QUESTIONS ASKED BE POSTED TO THE SD 91 WEBSITE?
Due to the volume of public submissions, we are doing our best to group them by general topic and then post them with thorough responses.
Rather than post all the questions from the initial Feb. 4th public meeting, we will be posting the minutes from that meeting asap.
If you believe that a specific question has not been answered, please email email@example.com to ensure that a response to the question is being prepared.
WE WERE RECENTLY PROVIDED THE OPPORTUNITY TO VOTE ON A LOCAL SWIMMING POOL FUNDING ISSUE, WHY CAN’T WE VOTE ON SCHOOL CLOSURE / RECONFIGURATION OPTIONS?
- The right to vote in a democracy is an enshrined value and so many parents are wondering why they can’t vote on the proposed Vanderhoof School reconfiguration options.
- Section 30 of the BC School Act legislates that every school district is to be governed by a board of education and that these trustees are to be elected. This is similar to municipal governments in that trustees are elected to govern the operations of the school district. Sections 73 and 74 of the School Act specifically describe the ‘Powers and Duties’ of a Board of Education in managing schools.
- As per Ministerial Order 194/08, Boards considering the closure of a school must implement a public consultation process that must include:
a) a fair consideration of the community’s input and adequate opportunity for the community to respond to a board’s proposal to close the school permanently;
b) consideration of future enrolment growth in the district of persons of school age, persons of less than school age and adults; and
c) consideration of possible alternative community use for all or part of the school.
- Although a board must take into consideration all feedback provided during the consultation process, the final decision regarding management of schools is at the sole discretion of the Board of Education.
- As stated at the public consultation meeting, the Board is required to make decisions that impact the entire school district rather than individual school communities. Vanderhoof is 1 of 6 distinct communities (Fort St. James, Vanderhoof, Fort Fraser, Fraser Lake, Burns Lake, Granisle) that are served by the SD 91 Board of Education.
GIVEN SOME OF THE OPTIONS TO MOVE GRADE 6/7 STUDENTS TO NVSS, WHAT IMPACTS MIGHT OCCUR ON THE FRENCH IMMERSION PROGRAM? WILL THE POSSIBILITY OF HAVING YOUNGER GRADES AT THE HIGH SCHOOL INCREASE THE OPPORTUNITY OF OFFERRING A FRENCH GRADUATION PROGRAM?
- Please note that as of the February 18, 2013 Board Meeting, the option of moving grade 6 students to NVSS has been removed from consideration. The Board felt that this was not an educationlly viable option and wanted to withdraw it immediately.
- Given current demand for and satisfaction with the French Immersion Program, we do not anticipate any changes to the exisiting program, other than possibly expanding the program (dependent on student numbers) to the junior secondary grades. In the event that there was insufficient demand at the grade 8 and 9 levels, there is the possibility that grade 7 French Immersion students would remain at WL McLeod.
- It should be noted that over the years that we have operated our French Immersion Program, many parents have expressed an interest in expanding the program to the high school level.
OVER THE PAST FEW YEARS THE DISTRICT HAS SPENT MONEY ON UPGRADING THE NVSS SPORTS FIELD, ON A FINE ARTS ADDITION AND ON MAJOR MECHANICAL UPGRADES AROUND THE DISTRICT. GIVEN ALL THESE EXPENDITURES IS THIS WHY THE DISTRICT HAS TO NOW CONSIDER CLOSING SCHOOLS.
- First and foremost, it must be emphasized that the Board does have the funds to keep all schools open. However, if we spend money to keep facilities open that are not needed you have to give up something else. The Board is not forced to find savings like we were in 2010. However, the Board does have a responsibility to make sure the funds we receive are spent in the most efficient and effective manner to benefit all the students of School District 91. The question the Board has to wrestle with is whether or not it is effective and efficient to keep all schools open at this time when there is excess capacity in the system. You can only spend each dollar once and we want to make sure the money is spent wisely and responsibly.
- To that end, the Board is still responsible to manage and maintain the buildings and facilities we now have. It is true that in recent years the Board has expended funds on heating-ventilation-air conditioning projects in an effort to make our schools more energy efficient, thereby lowering long-term operating costs.
- The School District also partnered with the District of Vanderhoof to upgrade the sports field at NVSS. These fields are used by both the school and community groups like minor soccer and community football. School District No. 91’s share of the $850,000 project was $80,000. This field was in very rough shape and is now something the whole community can be proud of.
NVSS also has a new fine arts wing. The old band room was housed in the oldest part of the building in an area that was once used as a dormitory. For many years the District worked with the Ministry of education to secure funds to remove the old wing and build the new fine arts facility. The overall cost of that project was 2.6 million dollars and would not have happened if the Board had to do it alone. The Ministry of education provided 1.6 million and District of Vanderhoof helped us secure a School Community Connection grant in the amount of $170,000. School district No. 91 then covered the remaining $772,000.
OPTION B FROM MATRIX PLANNING ASSOCIOATES CALLS FOR THE CLOSURE OF PRAIRIEDALE. DOES THIS NOT PUT SINKUT VIEW IN DANGER OF CLOSURE IN A FEW YEARS BECAUSE THERE IS NO LONGER A PRIMARY FEEDER SCHOOL?
· If you refer to slide 16 in the Matrix Planning Associates presentation (click HERE) you will see that there are actually two alternatives suggested for consideration.
1. One option is to close the Prairiedale school building and to move the K – 3 configuration up to Sinkut View. In that option, Sinkut View grade 4 – 7 students would move to one of the other three K – 7 schools in Vanderhoof.
2. A second option would be to close Prairiedale School and make Sinkut View School a K – 7 school. This option does not provide for an addition to Sinkut View and would mean that the school would have a functional capacity of 90 students. Currently between Prairiedale and Sinkut View there are only 55 students who live in the catchment area who attend these schools (see slide 5 of the public presentation).
CAN WE BUILD ON TO THE EXISTING SINKUT VIEW SCHOOL TO BUILD A K – 7 SCHOOL?
· In many respects this would be an ideal scenario but unfortunately, due to a variety of factors, we do not anticipate receiving approval for funding such a project from the Ministry of Education.
· As per the presentation from Matrix Planning, replacement and additions to schools are based on the overall capacity utilization of all schools within a community and currently Vanderhoof is operating at 74% (the target provided by the Ministry is 90 – 100%)
HAS THE SCHOOL DISTRICT CONSIDERED THE POSSIBILITY OF FUTURE ENROLMENT INCREASES DUE TO ECONOMIC ACTIVITY IN VANDERHOOF?
· Although predicting future scenarios is not exact, school districts, similar to many other publicly funded organizations, utilize a variety of professional tools that use current and historical trends to predict future likelihood scenarios.
· If the District is to properly manage its resources, recognizing they come from public coffers, the Board must deal in likelihoods rather than possibilities.
· The school district serves a variety of communities that have had the possibility of mining / logging expansions and unfortunately we have not seen a significant growth in the number of families with school age children in any of these communities.
· Demographically, the population of Vanderhoof is similar to that in many other communities in rural Canada that are struggling with the reality of smaller families.
· Our analysis of Vanderhoof, in particular, points to a slightly better picture than many communities in that we now see a generally stable elementary population for the next 5 – 15 year while we see our secondary student enrolment declining for the next 5 – 7 years and then leveling out.
· Please see the Matrix Planning Associates Slideshow in the ‘Reconfiguration Documents’ page.
WHY IS NVSS PROJECTING DECREASING ENROLMENT WHEN OUR ELEMENTARY SCHOOLS HAVE A RELATIVELY STABLE ENROLMENT?
· Our high schools are beginning to experience the general population decline that our elementary schools have seen over the last 5 – 10 years. As each smaller and smaller grade group of children progresses through school, it impacts the grade above them and that is now what we are experiencing at the high school level.
· We will continue to see declining numbers at the high school for the next 5 – 7 years.
WOULD FUND RAISING INITIATIVES BY PARENTS HELP TO KEEP OUR SCHOOLS OPEN?
· The school district continues to value the hard work of our parents in helping to fund a variety of school equipment and activities. Parent Advisory Councils are a vital partner in ensuring rich, vibrant school communities.
· The capital and maintenance costs of facility management are considerable and the likelihood of a sustained model of reliance on fund raising would place a considerable strain on both current and future parents and is likely not sustainable for the long term.
· Utilizing the passion, voice and involvement of parents in creating schools that maximize facility efficiency and quality education programming will support our school board in their role of deciding on the best course of action when considering financial realities and pressures that are facing school districts across the province.
I AM WORRIED THAT A LARGER ELEMENTARY SCHOOL WILL NOT OFFER THE SAME LEVEL OF CARE, CLASS SIZE, AND VALUES THAT OUR SMALL SCHOOLs DO?
· The MISSION statement for the school district says that we are committed to ensuring the success of ALL learners. As we heard at the Feb. 4th consultation meeting, we have parents and students from all of our schools that love and advocate for their schools.
· All district schools have caring and nurturing people who make schools the places that they are.
· When compared to the average size of elementary schools throughout the province an elementary school of 250 – 350 students is not considered large.
· Class sizes are governed by legislation and policy that is consistent in public education throughout the province. Please click on this link provided as a summary of class size by the province and you will see little discrepancy in class sizes between our schools: http://www.bced.gov.bc.ca/reports/pdfs/class_size/2011/091.pdf
· Each of our elementary schools have students who reach and are recognized for the significant milestones of student achievement (honour roll, athletic involvement, student leadership, graduation, scholarship winners, etc.)
· Each of our schools helps develop young people we can all be proud of and who make significant contributions to their communities.
· Parents are encouraged to book some time with principals of potential schools to talk with them and tour the school.
ARE THE FIVE OPTIONS PRESENTED BY MATRIX PLANNING THE ONLY OPTIONS THAT THE SCHOOL BOARD WILL CONSIDER DURING THE CONSULTATION PERIOD?
· Absolutely not! The Board is committed to hearing ideas and suggestions from our school communities and researching those to determine their viability.
MY CHILD IS STARTING KINDERGARTEN THIS FALL. WHAT SHOULD I BE THINKING ABOUT IN TERMS OF SCHOOL RECONFIGURATION?
- As status quo is still an option we suggest that you apply to enroll your student in the school where you want them to be able to attend but that you also apply to your home school so that they can be prepared if there are changes.
- Please note that on Feb. 18, 2013 the Board passed a motion that no changes related to Vanderhoof School Reconfiguration would occur until at least September, 2014.