What will happen to the Puntledge property if the school closes?
Admin says any discussion of this would prejudice the Trustees’ vote. However, information pills Puntledge could be boarded up, rented, or sold. Also, there’s a standing rumour of conversion to School Board offices. We understand a rental has to stay as ‘educational use’, but are we on the road to privatization of our best schools?
What will the impacts be on the neighbourhood?
Without a working school to stabilize the community, young families will leave and property values will shift. As the downtown core expands we will need our West Courtenay schools to attract families to settle here.
The School Board admits the access to nature we have at Puntledge cannot be duplicated elsewhere. Puntledge is desirable, and it’s possible the school grounds could become private space. There is a real risk of our school and parkland being turned into a subdivision.
Why do they really want to close Puntledge?
By closing a school, we save money by cutting the principal and support staff positions.
Puntledge has been targeted for closure, because SD71 also wants to relocate our three new primary modules to Arden School, to solve an over-capacity problem created by boundary changes. If Puntledge stays, we can’t move those buildings out as we’d then have too little classroom space for our students.
Do we really have a two million dollar shortfall?
On paper, our 2016/17 shortfall is estimated at $2.4 million (click the link for a breakdown), and the District wants to avoid a deficit.
Provincial funding is tied to the number of students in the district, and numbers have been declining for some time, which means less money. Under “funding protection”, the Province guarantees 98.5% of the previous year’s budget as a minimum. Put another way, that means a guaranteed 1.5% reduction annually. We can only get out of funding protection if an additional 250 students are enrolled in the district.
Will the District save the money they claim?
The plan to move Puntledge to LT may save $720K annually. However, that’s only a third of the annual cuts needed, and how much it will cost to implement this plan is uncertain. The costs of converting a middle school for elementary use will ramp up, and projected savings for 2016-17 are likely to vanish.
Are there problems with our building?
The condition of Puntledge is rated in the top five percent in all of BC schools for quality. As a single-level building, it is not a seismic risk. $500,000 in upgrades are projected for the building but are not urgent. The torch-on roof needs repairs, but it’s not high on the district-wide list of repairs in SD71’s 25 year projection.
Is a school just about the four walls?
We believe the primary opportunities for learning are due to our school’s unique location. Puntledge has thriving aboriginal and special needs programs that benefit greatly from nature access. Please watch our video if you’re not yet convinced.
Why complain about a short walk over the field?
True, it’s not that far. And classes could still do ‘field trips’ sometimes to visit the salmon, with parent’s permission. However, the immediate access to nature and the intimacy of our courtyard would be lost. Children would not be able to go the distance for forest play unsupervised. Lake Trail would become a gated and fenced campus.
Is there a covenant on the property?
The terms under which the District acquired the property are unclear. A search of the original transfer papers in Victoria will clarify for sure.
However, current zoning restricts use for park and educational purposes. The riparian setbacks which surround Morrison Creek also restrict use. The adjacent forest designated as parkland is under trust.
We believe the City and School District must work together to establish a permanent covenant on the entire property.
What are the seismic issues at Lake Trail?
Lake Trail and Puntledge are roughly the same age, and both buildings have had additions. The older sections of the LT building are the ones at risk. That includes many of the valued amenities such as the art room, wood and metal shops.
The Ministry is nearly through the list of high-risk seismic makeovers. Lake Trail is classed as H2 on the second tier, and our District hopes that some day, seismic money will come through as it did for Vanier. However, this could be many, many years down the road, if it happens at all.
Why put young kids in a risky building?
The District wants to keep Lake Trail open and full so they may qualify for seismic upgrades in the future. If Puntledge kids are moved in there, SD71 can keep the building in a holding pattern, just in case the seismic money comes through.
We are sure the Province’s liability lawyers are well-versed in the risk factors, and would not put our children at risk.
What does the District mean by “capacity issues”?
The District’s goal is to have all schools operating at or near full capacity. For every student enrolled, the District receives $7,000+/year. The District believes full schools provide the most efficient use of funds.
Operating at full capacity might be a good goal, but the options being presented won’t get the job done. Our schools’ capacity numbers will still be all over the map, while the shuffling of kids is premised on the long-range accuracy of software projections, which have produced flawed numbers in the past.
How will Vanier operate at over-capacity during seismic upgrades?
If it all goes according to plan, Vanier is scheduled to operate at over-capacity while going through significant renovations. The District has coping mechanisms planned, including rotation into available classrooms, but Vanier is being asked to handle a lot.
There are two levels of funding. The first is for seismic alone. The second is a request for modifications made possible due to walls and structure being stripped open. High schools don’t have full-day classes, and the second level funding will create new classrooms at Vanier into which students will be rotated as needed.
As a strategy, it may be useful to keep Lake Trail operating as a K-12 school to provide some relief and support for Vanier.
Why is Puntledge considered a ‘school closure’ but not Lake Trail?
Due to various rules set in place over the years, some due to previous closures that have been legally challenged, the District is now required to jump through various hoops.
Unfortunately, effective closure doesn’t always mean legal closure. A consultation process is only required when a school is left with no catchment area. Lake Trail is called a ‘boundary change’ and as such, didn’t require the costly 60-day consultation process. In our favour, the NIDES program would also not require a full closure process.
What about traffic issues?
Puntledge is safe. It’s protected by forest on three sides on a dead-end street, with lots of area parking for drop-offs. Lake Trail is on a busy corner and has little area parking, since most older kids walk to school.
If we move to Lake Trail, drop-offs will increase and the ability of families to walk or bike the greater distance will be impacted. A lot more traffic will come to an already busy area, and a ‘Safe Zone’ for drop-offs will have to be created at the school entrance. Parking lot makeover costs will be expensive, and embedded costs of traffic redesign may roll over into City budgets.
To prove the point, we did our own traffic studies comparing drop-offs at Puntledge and Lake Trail parking lots. See that video here.
What’s this I hear about the “four day school week”?
Yes, this is being seriously looked at. One model is to have the same number of school hours, just less days. Trustee Boldt has provided some research on pros and cons, showing little impact on education – read here. However, the full impacts haven’t yet been discussed.
How do our teachers feel? Why don’t they speak up?
We have 18 new staff positions at Puntledge this year. Due to the internal pecking order, many teachers can easily get bumped. Thanks to the ongoing funding conflict over class size and support services, teachers are afraid for their jobs. Try asking them directly.
Was the consultation a sham?
School Board staff were very cooperative throughout, and framed the process as an ‘accurate capture’ of the feelings and ideas of the community. However, throughout the meetings, only the PAC representatives were allowed to speak, not members of the public (likely due to the chaos of previous closure processes). We were given the date of January 6th to make a full, formal presentation from the community’s perspective. Everyone’s comments and concerns were duly noted. How this input will affect the individual Trustees’ decisions remains to be seen.
The public’s chance to speak to the Trustees will be at the Town Hall meeting on March 8th at Puntledge.
Are you confused yet?
Not surprising. The number-juggling is complex, and much of the truth has only come out through a lot of effort over the past few months. However, there’s a lot that the community doesn’t know, so please keep asking the tough questions. And read the FINAL REPORT for full details.
school sites compared for available greenspace