Transcript: The Vote on Puntledge Closure

coleman votes

WHAT HAPPENED MARCH 15TH?  HERE’S THE TRANSCRIPT.

For the record, pills the Trustees’ remarks on the Puntledge closure from the final vote March 15th, 2016.  After 5 months, we finally got to hear what they were thinking.  This is worth a review: it gives insights into how we can work together the rest of the term.

Until the Chair made his comments, the vote looked like at least 4-3 and Puntledge was dead.  But the penny dropped when Weber took an economic stand against privatization, and within a few minutes it flipped to 6-1 and a win for Puntledge, with Coleman the lone vote.

What happened?  Why did certain Trustees turn their minds around?  Were they influenced by the consultation, the Town Hall, or any aspect of the Keep Puntledge campaign?  Was it pressure from the media, the unanimous letter from the City, the kids holding signs up in the room?  Was it just because of the Chair? Based on this transcript, we can only guess at the Board’s motives.

The next Board meeting is April 26.  Please come.

Transcript – The Vote on Puntledge Closure
SD71 Board meeting, March 15th, 2016

https://youtu.be/rnzX7hsCJR0?t=1816

(The room is at capacity, standing-room only. There is a phalanx of several large media cameras.  Parents and children are holding up signs.  Others are crammed in the foyer, while their kids do colouring activities on the floor.  The air hangs heavy with anticipation. The vote on Puntledge comes about 30 minutes into the meeting.)

Acting Supt. Demeo:  Recommendation number Three…

Trustee Boldt (jumping in):  I’d like to move that Ecole Puntledge Park Elementary School remain open, and that the Board direct Senior Administration to undertake a detailed review with the community of educational services in West Courtenay, and how to maximize the use of school facilities in West Courtenay – Debbie has a copy of the motion.

Chair Weber:  Thank you for that.  Can I have a comment on the motion that’s already on the table right now?

Trustee Caton:  You know what – I’m going to move to start the conversation. I move the recommendation. Start the conversation.

Chair Weber:  Can I have a seconder?  (Trustee Coleman.)

Caton:  So, to the recommendation on the table here.  (strongly)  We are here not because we want to be here.  No Trustee on this board wants to sit here and have a conversation about closing a school.  The reason we are here (tearing up) – I’m getting emotional about this one here – is that since 2008, our District has lost 1,000 students. We have cut eight million dollars from our budget.  We’re looking at $2.5 million dollars next year, $2.5 million the year after that.  My role as a trustee is to provide educational services for 7,000 students from K to 12 and make sure that every single student in this district has the same opportunities, and I cannot do that with the funding formula this government has put upon us.

We’re here tonight because the government has chosen us to go down this route.  The only way school districts now can manage their budgets is by closing schools. The Recommendation came to the Board to look at Ecole Puntledge Park Elementary.  We’ve had the consultations, we’ve had the conversations with our communities.  We’ve heard the pros, we’ve heard the cons.  We’ve heard that moving it up the hill to a better school works, leaving it  where it is works.  We’ve heard the seismic upgrading at Lake Trail is an issue, we’ve heard other issues at Puntledge.  My role as a trustee is to ensure my decision here affects every student in the District.  I’ve looked at everything, and I’ve read every single email that I’ve gotten, I’ve read every single report that I have, and I do have some concerns…I do have concerns regarding Lake Trail – the location of Lake Trail, the parking lot at Lake Trail – and that 60% of that school is seismically unsafe for elementary students – I do have that concern. At the end of the day, can you honestly say: do I support this recommendation?  And at this point in time I have to say, I’m on the fence, and I don’t know if I can support this recommendation as it is presented.  And that’s the end of my conversation.

(audience: some applause)

Weber:  Trustee Coleman?

Coleman:  Well I, you know I look at this primarily, of course, from the point of view of finance.  And it seems to me we really only have two choices.  We either close a school, and the one under consideration is Puntledge – or we lose another 8 or 10 teaching positions this year. And really, I see no alternative to that.  And the damage done by what cuts we’ve made in this District over the past four years has been felt right across the District – I’m not willing to vote for more teacher cuts, and yet that’s the only option I see on the table.  So I’m forced to vote for the closure. I’m bound to support the motion.

Weber:  Thank you – Trustee McDonnell.

McDonnell:  It’s interesting to hear that, because of course we’re under the pressure, and of course none of us want to do this or even consider it.  But the good thing about it is, we’re looking at choosing to close – we’re considering closing a school, so we do have a choice as to whether it’s Ecole Puntledge Park.  And I can understand completely when the proposal was first thought of, that we were looking at eliminating junior secondary, principal, staff, that could be accommodated in another junior secondary school, and that did have low capacity in itself.  And I can understand that somebody said, well you know, it’s a better school, it’s a bigger school than Puntledge Park – so let’s move them up there, it’ll be great.  Well, it turns out in the course of this process – and you know that I was skeptical at the start, because I know both those schools really, really well.  I know what a gem it is at Puntledge Elementary, I know it’s really not the same walking down the field to the stream than being there and looking at it and having that nature around.  And I know what a school Lake Trail is in terms of its resources, the assets that it has – what it can be for our district as a 21st century springboard, and what it is for that community. And that community, both the schools impacted, the entire West side, are vulnerable.  There’s an amazing growth of parents moving there on purpose, who are well-educated, skilled, and have super jobs, and they’ve chosen that area.  But there are also lots of families who are really struggling, and don’t have vehicles, and those schools are lifelines because of what they offer.  

So, when I look at this situation I say, well, what did we hear?  The original one was, we’re going to keep all that stuff in Lake Trail,  we’re going to keep the shops and art rooms.  Now it turns out the capacity doesn’t let us have that room. We have to turn many good classrooms, many community assets both for the kids and for the community at large, we have to get rid of them.  We have to create classrooms in rooms that don’t even have windows, they don’t see the outside.  Now, when we did a conversion of Queneesh, we were able to convert that school and still keep multi-purpose rooms for general use.  Every classroom in that school has windows.  It’s not comparable to say that we can convert a junior high, a middle school, we’ve done it before – they’re not the same.  So then we find out about the relative seismic risk – for me that’s just a non-starter.  I’m not happy there’s a seismic risk at Lake Trail, but it’s more OK for that population than it is for our 480 very small children.  So I’m not happy about it, but I still can make that rationale.  We find out about the traffic – and I had not thought about that.  But the traffic numbers are compelling.  It is way more congested.  And that’s not just a twenty minute traffic problem, that’s actually air quality issues.  Kids that are in schools that are on busy roads – and it is – really do suffer in their health. 

So then you look at a number of other things.  Losing the access to the pre-school rooms and Aboriginal HeadStart.  It’s not our main mandate, that’s for sure – but if we have the room, which we do at Puntledge, and we can make life easy for parents that supports those kids, we should do it.  We should not just say, oh, they’ll go somewhere else.  As you know, because Arden is crowded, they are running an after-school care at Lake Trail.  And it’s quite hard to get them down, it’s quite a thing of kids coming in at 3 o’clock.  But if we put Puntledge in there and there is no room for those functions, Arden is shut, Puntledge is shut – where are those 90 kids going to go?  We have a chance to just leave Puntledge where it is.  And we heard from parents, of course we know it’s the teachers, and they create magic there, and they will do the same in Lake Trail, but beyond that – the two schools as elementaries are not comparable.  We will end up, you could call it, turning a silk purse into a sow’s ear.  The reverse, really.  We have this magic thing.  I admit, maintenance issues, right, we know that, that’s fine.  You can address those and improve the value of Puntledge, and really reflect… that school’s priceless, it really is priceless.  

(loud applause)

McDonnell:  And the other piece is, if we vote to leave that school there, we still do have to find the savings.  And so we have a couple of options.  We could immediately start a closure process on Lake Trail, which is really what we’re talking about closing.  We could do that, and we have time to do it, and if anything it deserves to have a focus on it.  And I’ll tell you, when we look at it we’ll actually see what it offers as an asset, and realize that doing a conversion, and stripping out all of those special things – we end up with a jerry-rigged elementary school, instead of this priceless gem, that anybody would want to have in their school district.  We end up with this jerry-rigged elementary school that’s adequate, it’ll work, of course it’ll work, it’s adequate – but we also lose this amazing junior school, which might continue to have local kids in, I think there’s rationale for that – or it could become a learning centre, or we could move the school board offices in with, or we could move student services in… the City might buy it for a rec centre.  We partner with all these groups – there are so many opportunities for that school, that save those operating costs, that spend our capital dollars improving a school rather than wrecking a school.  

(applause)

McDonnell:  We really end up with a win.  and I get it – it looked like a good idea.  And then you go, well, maybe not – so what’s plan B?  Plan B is in front of us.  The thing I really feel concerned about is that we represent the public interest, and both of those schools are pretty amazing assets.  When we’ve heard from the public how important it is to them as an elementary that has certain features:  the nature, the special needs way they work, the childcare spaces, the quiet access to the playground, the ability to close off and do Whacky Wheely, you couldn’t do that at Lake Trail – the play space, which is pretty diverse, and the stream, it’s not a walk-to but it’s right there.  So when we hear about what the public want, overwhelmingly – we don’t have social license to do anything.  When there is an option, the social license we have is to keep that school open.  When we were considering closing Tsolum and Union Bay, the savings came from closing those schools.  Not from moving those kids somewhere else.  When we had Cape Lazo and Brooklyn, and there was a choice offered,  and surprisingly the parents wanted the old Brooklyn – in the end, we didn’t do it.  That was their choice.  Certain things are more important than a big gym.  And when you look at it, at the end of the consultation, after all the things that were offered like the art room and the foods room and the bigger this and that – the only thing that you end up with is a bigger gym, there is not enough space for the school, you lose the connection to nature, you’re in a congested and unhealthy site, and you irrevocably destroy Lake Trail’s capacity to do other functions for us. 

So I find it kind of ironic when we think we might renovate Lake Trail and take the adult washrooms out and put little kid washrooms in, and then renovate Puntledge for School Board offices and take the little kid washrooms out and put adult washrooms in.

(loud laughter, cheers, applause)

McDonnell:  The two schools are designed to meet certain needs, they can continue to meet those needs, the savings are there if we address the issues of Lake Trail, on its own.  Thank you Tom.

Weber:  Thank you.

(applause)

Weber:  Trustee Boldt.

Boldt:  Trustee Sheila made more eloquent comments that I could make but in her comments there a lot of “ors” – we could do this, or we could do that – and those are what concern me.  The City Council last night voted to support keeping Puntledge open, they are in the middle of a revitalization of the downtown area, and they’re dealing with the homeless situation in the west end – I’m looking at this issue from a West Courtenay perspective, and I think we need to look at the maximization of facilities over the next 10-15 years, and I think Trustee Sheila has made some of those points.  We don’t know what’s going to happen in the next 10-15 years, but it’s pretty obvious to our real estate friends that all the expansion is moving west. The east is full, and they want to revitalize the downtown core because development is going to the West.  In the future the prices are going to be cheaper than east Courtenay, so we can expect little ones to be moving into that area. And if we close Puntledge, and close Lake Trail as a middle school, we are reducing our options.  What I think we need, and in the Closure Committee report the Option #3 made it quite clear that if we take a breath, take a pause and look at some of the creative and innovative things that could happen in West Courtenay for the K-12 and K-7 programs we would go farther.  I think what we’re doing right now by closing this school, two schools we’re closing, we’re not just closing one, we’re closing two schools – we’re cutting off our nose to spite our face and I cannot support the motion.

(loud applause)

Weber:  Trustee Hargreaves or Brown?

Trustee Brown:  This is a terribly difficult situation.  I get that you guys are really attached to your school; I would be too, it’s in a beautiful location – but we need to look at the long-term health of the District – and the Lake Trail facility is a better facility –

(audience, much yelling “No!”)

Brown: Are we really going to have a debate?  

Weber (drily): We’re not debating – just listen please, thank you –

Brown:  We’ve listened to everything you’ve said, we’ve read every email, we’ve read every letter, we’ve listened to your comments at the hearing – 

Weber:  Trustee Brown, talk to the Trustees, you’re not engaging…

Brown:  I believe Lake Trail is the better school; I believe if we’re going to invest money in making a school better, then we need to start with one that’s got a solid foundation… I also believe that, while there were many different proposals put forward, I couldn’t, in looking at them in detail, find one that would work, that would save us the same amount of money – Puntledge Park needs $500,000 worth of work in deferred maintenance, will the Grade Sevens fit in Puntledge Park, on top of the school that’s already there?  I think if we’re going to invest in a West Courtenay school, it’s going to be Lake Trail.

Weber: Thank you – Trustee Hargreaves.

Hargreaves:  I’ve looked at some of the background history – I found it fascinating that Lake Trail was initially built as an elementary school.  It was changed to an elementary school after, the same as we’re doing with other schools.  In the last ten years, boards in this district have closed Union Bay – a rural school.  Tsolum – a rural school.  Black Creek – a rural school.  Glacierview – east side school.  Brooklyn – east side school.  Village Park – east side school.  Comox Elementary – east side school.  These have been closed in the last ten years because of the political philosophy of this province, and the priorities of the government – that’s not changing.  And it doesn’t matter where we build out here, or where we build on the islands, or where we build anything else – as long as that political philosophy and those priorities continue to exist, there is no school in this district that is safe from being closed.  And as for cutting jobs – the only jobs that will be cut in this next round will be non-enrolment teachers.  Those are teachers that deal with our most vulnerable students.  Those are not teachers who are standing in front of a class of thirty or more, they are people that are dealing with special needs individuals in the district.   Severe behaviour problems.  Multiple handicaps.  Those are the people that we are going to be (unintelligible on tape), and those are the kids that I have to speak for. As well as all the other students.  Now, as far as Puntledge being a “gem” – I taught there for ten years.  No one is going to tell me that that building is a gem.  It is not.  And I’m sorry that you don’t realize that.  I would love to see that building get the money, I wish we had the money to go in there and redo the whole inside of it and make it into what it should be now, but at this point, it has classrooms that are used as hallways – that is not a good learning environment for anyone’s children.  And people pass through those.  And those teachers, yes they learn to get along with it, and to survive it – but it is not healthy for the learning environment of the children in those rooms.  

The other aspect, I took a tour of it, two tours, the one that was offered by the PAC and I took my own, as an alumni of Puntledge.  And the rooms that used to stink when I there still stink, if not worse now. The aspect of having the corridors blocked off, making the whole centre courtyard area like a prison – that was never there when I was there, it was open all the way around, right to the front.  Now granted, the one hallway that does exist in that school is part of the new complex that was built, that’s good.  But the rest of the building? No, it is not a gem, at all.  The location may be considered a gem, but again, I have known teachers that have had all kinds of respiratory problems because of the fog that sits down in there (crowd reacts with incredulity) almost six months of the year.  But – they can be ignored because they’re only teachers. However, in 2008, it was recommended to the Board that Puntledge Park be closed. That was deferred at that time.  It’s come back around now, we could defer it as well. But it’s only a matter of time, as long as you’ve got the same political philosophy and priorities that continue to exist.  And I haven’t seen any, anything, even talking with the MLA, he’s seen only a couple of parents come down there.  I didn’t hear of any massive letters, any massive cards going to any of them;  I didn’t see any protests down at his office – I saw them downtown, I went down and had a look at that, but I didn’t see them down at his office pounding on his door.  In fact, when I’ve talked to most people, what they’ve said is: close this, don’t close this. Let’s close Arden, let’s close Courtenay El.  Nobody, when I was talking to them, said, let’s get rid of the problem.  

Weber:  Thank you.  OK.  I have something to say.  And I actually have notes.  How close are children sitting to where I’m sitting?  Because my internal Peter Finch is going to come out.  And if you don’t know who Peter Finch is, then Google him quickly.  So I want to start by thanking senior staff for this phenomenally complex problem in providing guidance to all of us, that’s inclusive of trustees and the public, through this process.  It’s no easy task to have done, in the face of change in our senior leadership, the Superintendent and Secretary-Treasurer position, on top of all the other expectations, like your regular job that we demand of you.  I also want to thank my trustee colleagues who maintained objectivity during this process, in particular the new Trustees, Trustee Hargreaves and Trustee Brown – I appreciate that, this is a (word missing) duty, the responsibility of a Trustee through a process like this is to maintain objectivity, demonstrate objectivity through the process, and I would like to thank my colleagues Trustee Caton and Trustee Coleman for the same (words missing).  

I want to talk about what didn’t influence my decision.  What didn’t influence my decision is that my own kids attended this school.  This process has been going on for so long now, that when it started, as my trustee colleagues know, I was a reasonably happily married guy, and now a Puntledge parent is representing my wife through a divorce proceeding.  So that didn’t influence my decision either.  Nostalgia doesn’t influence my decision around this.  The reference to the crime rate in the Lake Trail area I find particularly offensive – I don’t live in the Lake Trail area, but I think if I lived in the Lake Trail area I would take huge exception with those broad stroke comments that suggest that one end of the property is a more risky neighbourhood to attend school – that is just absolute nonsense.

Seismic concerns between the schools:  I recognize that there are differentiations between, but neither school is relatively safer or unsafer than the next, in my view.  I also believe, unfortunately, in having been through a number of these, and having been part of them in the 1980’s in another province, as school closure is not a brand new issue – is that school closure is more of an issue for parents than for our children – our children are rather resilient, and their primary interest is to be with their friends and their teachers that they like.  The access to the environment is an interesting one, and I disagree – I appreciate your point, Trustee McDonnell, but slightly differ, in that the opportunities to access the environment is something that still would be available.

The other thing that didn’t influence my decision, and I sat patiently through, but man, I’ve gotta tell you how hard it was to bite my tongue at times: the conspiracy theorists I find particularly offensive, as an extremely lazy way of thinking, and I also think it’s curious that conspiracy theorists only come out when they’re worried about your view opposing theirs – they don’t think it’s conspiracy when everybody conspires to support you.  And I find that particularly offensive, and again, I’ll be careful with my language, but I’m happy to have a debate with any conspiracy theorist who thinks that the Board or any members of the Board conspired to cook the books or make a decision ahead of time – that is particularly offensive.  Notwithstanding the above, I think that the views and opinions from the community were varied and were well thought-out, and were super-appreciated.

The savings: the costs involved in upgrading Lake Trail vs. the costs involved in upgrading Puntledge – there are costs associated with that.  Recognize that the school we’re talking about, Puntledge, is at near-capacity, and is in full use.  Which differentiates it, somewhat, from schools which we’ve had to deal with in the past. The future use of the site:  there isn’t a covenant on the property, so technically, or legally, there’s really no true barrier for embarking on an alternate use of the land. We could begin a process at some future date, to subdivide the property and do whatever.  Disposing of, arguably, selling the land would be a complex process – I think Trustees are aware of that.  This is not simply a matter of hammering a For Sale sign on the front lawn and entertaining offers.  Selling the land for something for other than educational use hasn’t really been the history in this District.  So I cite Tsolum.  Now recognize that Tsolum has a covenant attached to it that the property can only be used for educational purposes, and it has been utilized in recent years as NIDES. Glacierview has been repurposed to be used by the School District.  Village Park was sold to the French school district, but is still being used for educational purposes. And Brooklyn the same – being used for educational purposes by other parties.

So should Puntledge be sold, what would its future use be?  And that’s likely for a future board to decide, because how these things tend to progress, it’s not something that we would be seized with, or seize ourselves with, over the remaining 2.5 years of our tenure.  The relocation of the Board office is highly unlikely – every school that’s been closed in the past, it’s always been: hey, let’s move the Board office there. And as much as this building needs to be vacated, and perhaps the Board office moved someplace else, it is extremely unlikely, in my view, that the future home of the Board office would be at Puntledge Park.  Repurposing for other School District 71 educational needs:  well, perhaps.  But as has been pointed out, Lake Trail, or parts of Lake Trail, could be used for that now – if in fact, that’s something that we want to do.  Subdivide the land, demolish, sell – I think that is extremely unlikely;  this isn’t a property that I envision in my lifetime, and I hope to live a few more years, that will develop condominiums, apartment buildings, even low-cost housing – I don’t think that that’s something that’s in the cards.

The most likely option – and here’s where the rub is for me – the most likely option is that, going on the pattern of history, is that SD 71 would be approached almost immediately by a third party who would say: hey!  We’ll buy that building from you and use it for educational purposes.  And I’m troubled by that – not because I have a philosophical bent against independent schools, that’s totally fine.  But I am concerned that, if that were to be the case – and granted, it would be this Board’s decision or a future Board’s decision to ignore that – but again, history suggests that Boards have to really to look at that, and entertain that, and this Board has made that decision in the past, and others as well.

So I appreciate that this is stringing together a lot of points that may in fact not be strung together, but the concern that I have, in the end, is that if we close and vacate Puntledge Park, it will become the future site and home of another educational opportunity, that would, ironically, recruit from the existing population that we have – not necessarily all from that area, but certainly from our District.  Again, that’s not my view against independent schools – but I’m loath as a Trustee of SD 71 to pave a path and lay track for other educational partners to come and use our (word obscured). So it’s on that point – and weighing the complex cost-benefits of closing Puntledge, I totally get that – it’s for that reason that I would not support the motion.

(crowd erupts into loud cheering)

Weber:  Trustee Caton is calling for the Motion…

Caton:  So I’m calling the question if all have spoken, so it’s time to call the Motion…

Weber:  Hold on – do we…

McDonnell (jumping in):  I just feel that this is such an important issue, making a big decision – it would be appreciated if we, making a sole…

Weber:  If you have new information to add… if you have the same information to say over again, then…

McDonnell:  I could speak, so much, as to those other options and questions – but I want to put it to you as Trustees and where you’re at, even though some of you have expressed concerns about the state of the building – we’re at a point… so, I’m begging all of you, to be looking for a way to say “yes” to leaving Puntledge where it is.   And it falls into that thing where, we thought it was a good idea and it turns out not to be, and the place where it balances, I share the Chair’s concerns about the devastation of seeing that in the hands of another educational institution.  But really, it’s about our leadership, right now.  We need to be positive.  We’ve talked about community engagement, and we are doing a lot of consultation, and a lot of change.  And this is the moment when we need to be courageous leaders, and we need to be visionary leaders (applause) and we need to be looking to retaining future opportunities for growth, for creative solutions to capacity, like the Lake Trail issue.

And if we vote to turn down this… this is the social license piece – we have a groundswell of people who have organized for something that’s important, and their community, and if we say no, the skepticism and discouragement will not just apply to this school – and it’s something that we don’t have to do – it’s going to apply to the whole District.  Others are going to say, why would we bother?  Why would we be engaged with them, why won’t they try something new and be flexible, because it’s not going to work.  Not only that, if we support this group, some of them may say it’s over and go away, but some of them – this amazing capacity, these talented people, will be going down to McRae’s office and supporting it, as we try to carry a message about the importance of public education.  And that positive move will be something – we heard people, we want to do something positive – yes, we’re under a lot a pressure to just cut, cut, cut, but we actually think there’s a way to invest in the best things in our school.  And that will affect all the other consultations we are doing, about the alternate week, or about the budget in general.  And we put ourselves in a way better place, if we make the right decision on this.  Thank you Tom.

Weber:  So, on the Motion before you, all those in favour –

(Trustee Coleman shoots his arm up in the air)

Weber:  And opposed –

(the Motion stands at 6-1)

Weber:  And the Motion is defeated.

(the room erupts in wild, boisterous cheering – people jump to their feet, applauding)

Weber (over crowd):  Could I see Shelley’s hand? Shelley? Could you put your hand up?  So, I want everybody to see Shelley.  Because Shelley’s going to be here next month.  And I wonder how many of you are going to be here next month to pay attention to what’s going on in the District?

Audience member (puts hand up): I’ll be here!!

Weber:  Excellent!  (banging gavel)  Ok, we have a meeting….

Caton (over crowd):  I’m wondering, if #8 is contingent on having a conversation on….the boundaries, the existing boundaries…. (drowned out)

Weber:  OK, we’ll take five minutes….

Statements by Jack Stevens at March 8th ‘Town Hall’

PLEASE SHARE!!! SD71 BOARD TO VOTE ON CLOSURE, abortion TUESDAY MARCH 15TH.

We need you to pack the house for D-Day, Tuesday 7:00 – 9:00 p.m. Board Office at 607 Cumberland Rd. Wear your T-shirts, bring signs. DON’T MISS THE EXCITEMENT. We’ll have big media there. Any of the 300+ people who came out last week, show up for Puntledge – this is our moment to shine.

Save-Puntledge-poster-MARCH-15th-YELLOW

 

town hall screen grab shane 4  - Jack speaking

Jack Stevens:

I was a teacher at Lake Trail from 1964 – 1966.  As Principal of several North Vancouver schools, diagnosis
I never had a school location with more potential to serve the kids and community as we have here in Courtenay.  It has everything: dedicated teachers, space for nature education, close to the downtown, a wide range of facilities and surrounded by a growing community which depends on the school’s survival. We need to hit the pause button and ‘Keep Puntledge at Puntledge’.

The community owns its schools. We are the shareholders. We expect to be fully involved prior to finalizing any strategic plan which, in turn, initiates budget priorities and decisions.

Without full disclosure and thorough engagement, we are being asked to accept an eviction from a school which we  already own. Trustees are elected to safeguard and manage the community’s resources. What will you do if you can’t?

The Provincial Government has failed to return needed levels of funding from the tax revenue we have given them. We will face the same challenges next year unless the Province allocates more K12 funds, we address declining enrolment, and drastically reduce admin costs.

Two years ago, I submitted a detailed budget submission and  recommended an administrative review of the district. No response from the Board.  We should have been well along in implementing these reductions. Trustees have allowed a bloated administrative system to be built over time which was not needed and now is unsustainable.

In my Principalship of several elementary schools in North Vancouver, a much larger school district, I had a vice principal once for one year and the Board administration was a whole lot smaller.

Every time we close a neighbourhood school we weaken the community, especially for young, vibrant families. Parents may move, some to private schools. Without confidence in their neighbourhood school’s survival, parents will be forced to make other choices.  Revitalization of the Downtown Core cannot happen without preserving the schools in the core. The way forward is for the community to become fully engaged  in the next planning phase.

We have an opportunity to develop an exciting Community Education Center for West Courtenay which will deliver  a range of services to all ages in the community.

Commitment and sustained leadership from trustees,administrators,teachers and community members will be essential in moving forward. So let’s all roll up our sleeves and commit to the challenge of working together to write a new chapter in the Puntledge Park/Lake Trail story.

Recommendations:

1.  Maintain Puntledge Park, and develop with Lake Trail a campus Community Education Centre

2.  If necessary, submit a ‘Needs Budget’ to the Ministry.

Jack Stevens
B.Ed, M.A. Community Education

Selected Educational Experience

  Teacher of grades 4 – 12, including Lake Trail from 1964 – 1966

  Principal of several North Vancouver elementary schools

  In 1971, developed the first Community School in B.C. at Queen Mary Elementary School, North Vancouver

  District Coordinator of Community Schools for three years, preparing school staffs and communities for designation by the Board as Community Schools

  Chaired a Community School Consulting team for the B.C. School Trustees and Ministry of Education

  President of The North Vancouver Teachers Association

SHOW UP on MARCH 15th for D-DAY!!

PLEASE SHARE!!! SD71 BOARD TO VOTE ON CLOSURE, and TUESDAY MARCH 15TH.

We need you to pack the house for D-Day, more info Tuesday 7:00 – 9:00 p.m. Board Office at 607 Cumberland Rd. Wear your T-shirts, bring signs. DON’T MISS THE EXCITEMENT. We’ll have big media there. Any of the 300+ people who came out last week, show up for Puntledge – this is our moment to shine.

Save-Puntledge-poster-MARCH-15th-YELLOW

 

What the Trustees Promised – 2014 Election review

election promises - raeside

In the following statements in their run for election in 2014, infection the Trustees put on their best faces.  Will they now be accountable to their values?

Area C school trustee candidate: Ian Hargreaves
posted Oct 22, sovaldi sale 2014

I am a retired teacher who has lived in the Comox Valley for 31 years and taught primarily at Ecole Puntledge Park and Miracle Beach Elementary. During that time I got to know both communities well and feel that  I will be able to make a positive contribution to the School Board on their behalf. I believe my experience participating in numerous community events, as well as a number of instructional leadership roles at the provincial, district and school level will be a valuable asset. As an educator, I came to the district as a special education specialist and was involved in the development of the province’s Special Education Core Curriculum as well as other curriculum areas. I participated in the integration of special needs students, the developed Social Justice and Diversity materials and was a social justice associate for the British Columbia Teacher’s Federation.

In addition to my classroom teaching, I participated in the development of a local First Nations curriculum package, The Legend of Queneesh, served on numerous district committees and as a “computer helping teacher” supported the development and implementation of district and school strategies for the integration of technology.

Before coming to the Comox Valley I worked for a number of years in the private sector on the development and management of programs for handicapped children and adults. I have long had a deep, abiding passion for education and know I can make a positive contribution to the work of the board.

In Nov. 2014, several candidates responded to the following question:

In your opinion what is the most critical issue facing the school board at this time and how do you plan on addressing it?

Ian Hargreaves:

What is clear to me from the recent teachers’ strike is that public education funding in B.C. is amongst the lowest in Canada. The next provincial budget is projected to continue the trend of underfunding, downloading still more costs onto school boards already being crushed by the accumulating impact of more than a decade of underfunding. That will mean larger class sizes, fewer resources, more cuts to maintenance, and more pressure to close schools. It will mean even less help for our most vulnerable students and those who need it most.

What can be done? An entire generation of students have already gone from kindergarten to graduation, impacted by endless cutbacks. Solutions cannot wait for the next election, the next round of bargaining, or some Court decision years away. Trustees need to be educational advocates throughout the province, standing up for public education, demanding that the provincial government treat public education as a vital component of a prosperous and cohesive society—not as a burden upon taxpayers.

It is time for new ideas, new strategies, and especially for trustees who will put the needs and the interests of public education ahead of partisan politics! When the next round of budget cuts comes, we need school trustees to say that it’s no longer good enough to work hard to minimize the damage. Our students, and our hard-working teachers and educational staff, deserve better. They need trustees who will liaise with all educational partner groups, local organizations and the community to ensure that politicians’ understand the need to end the years of underfunding and to make quality public education the highest priority. The time has come to speak out for public education and to reject the strategy of endless compliance budgets … public education is far too important to be so undervalued.

Peter Coleman:

The biggest single problem is the variability in student enrolment.  Most of our other problems can be traced back to this root cause.

Our enrolment drives our funding from Government, and so drives budgeting, staffing, and programs at the schools.  Most major Board decisions are within those areas.  Until recently we received quite accurate enrolment predictions from a province-wide demographic service.  These predictions showed a steady decline, with each entering cohort (at Kindergarden) smaller than the cohort of graduates.  This reduced our budget every year, which made planning difficult but possible.  But in recent years there seems to have been more migration of students, so that school enrolments and then government funding change unexpectedly.

In particular this seems to affect our Special Needs students; we must provide programs for them, yet we cannot predict accurately how many or what kinds of students we are likely to get.  This is a very significant budget issue.

The enrolment problem is common to many districts across the province.  In our case, within a year or two enrolments are expected to stabilize, with the entering class becoming the same size as the graduating class.  If government budgeting practices don’t change for the worse, we can then look forward to stable budgets for several years.  Staffing and programming will become more stable as well, which is good for everyone in the district.

Of course, a growing budget would solve many problems, but given the hard economic times, the Board does not expect larger per student revenues.  We continue to point out to Government that, in particular, Special Needs funding is not keeping up with our costs.  A significant increase in the Learning Improvement Fund would be enormously helpful.  I believe every district in the Province would agree with that statement.

Cliff Boldt: 

The most critical provincial issue facing public education in the Comox Valley and province-wide is centralization of funding, curriculum and many daily operations in the school and classroom. There must be a move toward bringing public education policy development back to the local level, using a process that recognizes the role of professionals and includes parents, students and the broader community. This will lead to a more balanced approach to responsibilities and controls between the school board and the provincial bureaucracy.

All politics is local.  Public education is political.  Public education is too complex to be controlled and changed by a select few individuals or groups from Victoria. Trustees must make sure that all citizens can participate in identifying needs and developing detailed policy suggestions that will benefit students in public education.

School trustees must have high expectations of students and teachers.

Teaching and learning are complicated and sometimes messy processes of students, parents and teachers working together. Trustees must work with teachers, students, parents and support staff to provide classrooms where students can do their best.

This consultation can be achieved by trustees working with students, teachers, support staff, parent advisory committees to include them in the process of developing and implementing policy.

It’s time for a bottom up approach to the management of public education.  We have had enough of the top-down approach.

Janice Caton: 

In my nine years as a trustee I have seen a serious shift in the funding of public education. Resources have become more scarce, schools require upgrades, teachers need to be supported in classrooms and parents need to believe that their tax dollars are contributing to optimal learning in their classrooms. But that is not what we are seeing in 2014.

I believe that the lack of sustainable and predictable funding is the most critical issue facing Boards today – By not knowing from one year to the next, what funding will be available to serve students, trustees find it difficult to ensure that we can continue to provide the supporting resources for students.

The Ministry has new expectations for How and What students learn, but if we cannot count on consistent long term funding for planning and implementing new programs we will not be able to prepare are students for the future. Our students and staff deserve to have learning and teaching environments that have all that they need to be positive and effective. Parents need to know that the Boards’ will have the resources needed to support students. Government needs to recognize that dollars invested in education are critical to moving ahead.

We will continue to address this issue by, working with other districts, and our provincial association to insist on accountability from the Government and the provision of predictable funding.  Working with our educational partners in engaging the broader community as to the importance of a rich fully funded public education system.

I have been an outspoken critic over the lack of funding along with our board, we will continue to work with all of our provincial educational partners in advocating for a strongly funded system that supports and meets the needs of all students.

 Peter Coleman: Much remains to be done
Oct 21, 2014

Three demanding years on the school board have convinced me that though much has been accomplished, much remains to be done.

We now have lengthy contracts in place with both main employee groups. But budget concerns, and careful money management, remain major issues.

Through our provincial association, we continue to press for public education to be given higher priority within the province’s budget.

We have completed a number of important property transactions, including the disposal of the old Brooklyn School.

The site continues to serve educational and community purposes, and we recouped sufficient money for renovations to our other schools, and the replacement of our obsolete IT equipment.

To ensure continued quality programs, we have initiated a regular graduating student/school board meeting, in which trustees hear directly from students about their experiences in the school system.  Students report mainly positive reactions.

Students have also benefitted from an Active Travel (to school) Program, an important contribution to student health and fitness, and from a new all-weather playing field at G. P. Vanier School.

Our greatest student successes have been in academic areas.

Our Destination Imagination teams have been successful at every level of competition – including the world championships.

Similarly, our robotics teams have been successful in provincial, national and international competitions.

I hope to be given a new term by the voters, so that my 40 years of experience as a Royal Canadian Navy veteran, as a parent of five public school graduates, and as a teacher and administrator in the K-12 and post-secondary sectors in two provinces, can continue to serve the citizens and students of the Valley.

Trustee Coleman elected School District 71 chair
Nov 27, 2013

Comox Valley Board of Education Comox trustee Peter Coleman was elected board chair Tuesday.

Area B trustee Tom Weber announced last month he would like to step back from his position as board chair, asking that trustees do not nominate him during elections at the Nov. 26 meeting. Weber, who had been chair for the past two years, said he wanted to give other trustees the opportunity to fill the position.

Before moving to the Comox Valley, Coleman was a trustee in the surrey School district. He has been a teacher and administrator, first in the public schools and later in the post-secondary sector (BCIT and SFU).

Caton was again named vice-chair, by acclamation.

Caton was elected as the board’s representative to the BC School Trustees Association Provincial Council, with Courtenay trustee Donna Gambacorta elected as the alternate.

Coleman was elected as the board’s representative to the BC Public School Employers’ Association Representative Council, with Grinham chosen as the alternate.

LETTER: What We Learned at Puntledge’s Town Hall

SAVE puntledge screen shot town hallWhat We Learned at Puntledge’s Town Hall
Letter from a Concerned Parent

Dear Trustees, drugs

This week, generic I have been attending the exciting community meetings on the revitalization of downtown Courtenay, while at the same time attending a meeting on the possible closure of a downtown jewel of a school, Ecole Puntledge Park Elementary, that is not only graced by a magical salmon stream and forest as a natural learning environment, but which acts as an anchor for the neighbourhood, the community around it, and the future revitalized Courtenay.

Comox Valley will grow. There is opportunity in this valley. Courtenay downtown will grow, particularly if the ideas on the table up the street at the Downtown Courtenay Revitalization meeting go forward.

Last night I learned there are families who moved from over-expensive Vancouver, from Toronto, and even from England to the Comox Valley and who specifically chose Puntledge and the neighbourhood because of all that it has to offer.  And more will follow.

I also learned at the Puntledge meeting that there is a proposal on the table to move young children from a seismically safe school (Puntledge) to one that is at risk of possible collapse in the event of an earthquake (Lake Trail).I learned that Lake Trail will have to undergo extensive renovations to make it suitable for the younger children, including renovated rooms and parking lot. With the cost of these changes and the seismic upgrading needed, it will surely be a more expensive move than retaining Puntledge where it is.

I learned that Puntledge is a high performing school with a growing number of students (not decline in enrolment).

I learned that the community has put forth viable options to closing Puntledge – more viable than what the board has proposed in their short-sighted and ill-informed proposal. I learned there are exciting opportunities with ideas proposed at the meeting to build a community school, even a campus that joins the two schools, Lake Trail and Puntledge (like Cumberland)…an absolutely brilliant and exciting idea for the future.

As a past parent of children in Puntledge, (one now graduating from Mark R Isfeld High School and one in Victoria), I implore the Trustees to do their job as mentioned at the meeting – to work for the community and keep public education alive.  It is time for those interested in revitalizing Courtenay to talk to the Trustees and vice versa.  Puntledge is an essential ingredient to revitalizing the downtown core. It is also time for Trustees to stand up to the Province, to join with other communities and Trustees across the Province and tell the provincial government enough is enough.  It is time for the Province to put money back into public education – our common future depends on it.

Finally, while we were guaranteed that there is no “backdoor” land deal being cooked up, if this turns out to be the case – somewhere down the road, I would hope the community calls for all of you to step down.

On March 15, please vote no to the closure of Ecole Puntledge Park Elementary.

Catherine Hill
parent of past Puntledge students and deeply concerned community member who deeply loves this Comox Valley family and wants to see Courtenay grow and thrive — right from its very core.

Record, Mar 9 – An Open Letter to Our School Trustees

Emotions run high at Puntledge forum

Scott Stanfield, pills
Comox Valley Record
posted Mar 9, order
2016

town hall big group
Early in his career when Jack Stevens taught at Lake Trail, what is ed
he would walk to school through Puntledge Park and the trails on the Morrison Creek side of First Avenue. In 33 years as a teacher/principal in B.C., the retired Stevens never saw another quite like the site at Lake Trail/Puntledge.

“I never experienced a more exciting site,” Stevens told trustees of the Comox Valley School District (SD71) Tuesday at a townhall-style meeting at the Puntledge gym. “We’re all in this together. It’s a community resource. We’ve got to preserve the schools we have.”

SD71 acting superintendent Tom Demeo — in attendance Tuesday — has recommended closing École Puntledge Park Elementary as of June 30. Pending approval from the school board, Puntledge would operate out of Lake Trail.

Noting a “dangerous trend” of declining enrolments and an aging populace, Stevens suggests looking no further than Union Bay to see the effect of closing the area’s only school.

He also suggests combining Puntledge and Lake Trail into a campus community model, mirroring that in Cumberland.

“This is a golden opportunity to do something exciting,” said Stevens, who feels revitalizing downtown Courtenay would be impossible if Puntledge closes. “What’s the point of rezoning for more families if there is no school? Every time we close a school, we weaken the neighbourhood. We’re talking about the glue that holds neighbourhoods together.”

Others spoke about the natural beauty surrounding École Puntledge, and safety concerns associated with Lake Trail. A government review of seismic risk to B.C. schools concluded that Lake Trail is at ‘high risk of damage or structural failure’ in the event of an earthquake. Puntledge was not found to be at risk.

A study conducted by the Keep Puntledge at Puntledge group counted 621 non-school related cars passing at the Lake Trail/Willemar intersection, compared to 27 non-related vehicles at Fourth and Willemar, where Puntledge is located.

“This is one of the most beautiful schools that you could ever imagine,” said Joel Mortyn, who has a child in kindergarten at Puntledge. “It’s safe, the kids love it, there’s access to the outdoors…There’s a lot of passion behind this school.”

Former Puntledge student Katherine Tinmouth moved back to the Valley so her daughter could attend the same school.

“When I learned about the proposed closure I was shocked,” Tinmouth said. “It really is not a good long-term plan. We have the right number of students in West Courtenay for the three elementary schools that are here, they’re just not in the right places.

“The best decision is one that keeps our best schools open and working into the future. And this is our best school,” Tinmouth added. “The options for what it could be used for aren’t good. It could be boarded up, it could be rented, or it could be sold to a private institution. It could even be sold to a developer. In my opinion, none of those options are good.”

Demeo has also recommended transferring Lake Trail Grade 8 and 9s to Vanier Secondary.

“We’re not ready to go,” Lake Trail student Hannah Lewis told trustees. “We’re scared to move. If you move us, we have to go farther away.”

While SD71 is “badly under-funded,” Stevens feels the school board is “over-administrated.

“We have a system of administration that is not sustainable.”

The district is facing an estimated $2.4 million shortfall heading into the 2016/17 school year, largely due to a declining enrolment of 143 students. It says the proposed closure and other changes could save about $720,000 a year, but Keep Puntledge at Puntledge says this amount is less than one per cent of SD71’s annual operating budget.

The group has proposed various alternative solutions. One idea is to keep Puntledge open and move Navigate (NIDES) to Lake Trail.

It also suggests the following cost-saving measures:

•freeze new administrative hiring;

•reduce superintendent and secretary-treasurer salaries;

•consider if each school needs a vice-principal;

•reduce senior administration by three or more (retirement or reassignment);

•eliminate ‘district principal’ designation;

•reduce human resources staff.

The school board will discuss the proposed closure of Puntledge — and other consultations — Tuesday, March 15.

Emotions run high at Puntledge forum

Scott Stanfield, doctor Comox Valley Record – March 9, visit web
2016
http://www.comoxvalleyrecord.com/news/371559921.html

town hall big group
Early in his career when Jack Stevens taught at Lake Trail, he would walk to school through Puntledge Park and the trails on the Morrison Creek side of First Avenue. In 33 years as a teacher/principal in B.C., the retired Stevens never saw another quite like the site at Lake Trail/Puntledge.

“I never experienced a more exciting site,” Stevens told trustees of the Comox Valley School District (SD71) Tuesday at a townhall-style meeting at the Puntledge gym. “We’re all in this together. It’s a community resource. We’ve got to preserve the schools we have.”

SD71 acting superintendent Tom Demeo — in attendance Tuesday — has recommended closing École Puntledge Park Elementary as of June 30. Pending approval from the school board, Puntledge would operate out of Lake Trail.

Noting a “dangerous trend” of declining enrolments and an aging populace, Stevens suggests looking no further than Union Bay to see the effect of closing the area’s only school.

He also suggests combining Puntledge and Lake Trail into a campus community model, mirroring that in Cumberland.

“This is a golden opportunity to do something exciting,” said Stevens, who feels revitalizing downtown Courtenay would be impossible if Puntledge closes. “What’s the point of rezoning for more families if there is no school? Every time we close a school, we weaken the neighbourhood. We’re talking about the glue that holds neighbourhoods together.”

Others spoke about the natural beauty surrounding École Puntledge, and safety concerns associated with Lake Trail. A government review of seismic risk to B.C. schools concluded that Lake Trail is at ‘high risk of damage or structural failure’ in the event of an earthquake. Puntledge was not found to be at risk.

A study conducted by the Keep Puntledge at Puntledge group counted 621 non-school related cars passing at the Lake Trail/Willemar intersection, compared to 27 non-related vehicles at Fourth and Willemar, where Puntledge is located.

“This is one of the most beautiful schools that you could ever imagine,” said Joel Mortyn, who has a child in kindergarten at Puntledge. “It’s safe, the kids love it, there’s access to the outdoors…There’s a lot of passion behind this school.”

Former Puntledge student Katherine Tinmouth moved back to the Valley so her daughter could attend the same school.

“When I learned about the proposed closure I was shocked,” Tinmouth said. “It really is not a good long-term plan. We have the right number of students in West Courtenay for the three elementary schools that are here, they’re just not in the right places.

“The best decision is one that keeps our best schools open and working into the future. And this is our best school,” Tinmouth added. “The options for what it could be used for aren’t good. It could be boarded up, it could be rented, or it could be sold to a private institution. It could even be sold to a developer. In my opinion, none of those options are good.”

Demeo has also recommended transferring Lake Trail Grade 8 and 9s to Vanier Secondary.

“We’re not ready to go,” Lake Trail student Hannah Lewis told trustees. “We’re scared to move. If you move us, we have to go farther away.”

While SD71 is “badly under-funded,” Stevens feels the school board is “over-administrated.

“We have a system of administration that is not sustainable.”

The district is facing an estimated $2.4 million shortfall heading into the 2016/17 school year, largely due to a declining enrolment of 143 students. It says the proposed closure and other changes could save about $720,000 a year, but Keep Puntledge at Puntledge says this amount is less than one per cent of SD71’s annual operating budget.

The group has proposed various alternative solutions. One idea is to keep Puntledge open and move Navigate (NIDES) to Lake Trail.

It also suggests the following cost-saving measures:

•freeze new administrative hiring;

•reduce superintendent and secretary-treasurer salaries;

•consider if each school needs a vice-principal;

•reduce senior administration by three or more (retirement or reassignment);

•eliminate ‘district principal’ designation;

•reduce human resources staff.

The school board will discuss the proposed closure of Puntledge — and other consultations — Tuesday, March 15.

Emotions run high at Puntledge forum

Scott Stanfield, medical
Comox Valley Record
– March 9, 2016
http://www.comoxvalleyrecord.com/news/371559921.html

town hall big group
Early in his career when Jack Stevens taught at Lake Trail, he would walk to school through Puntledge Park and the trails on the Morrison Creek side of First Avenue. In 33 years as a teacher/principal in B.C., the retired Stevens never saw another quite like the site at Lake Trail/Puntledge.

“I never experienced a more exciting site,” Stevens told trustees of the Comox Valley School District (SD71) Tuesday at a townhall-style meeting at the Puntledge gym. “We’re all in this together. It’s a community resource. We’ve got to preserve the schools we have.”

SD71 acting superintendent Tom Demeo — in attendance Tuesday — has recommended closing École Puntledge Park Elementary as of June 30. Pending approval from the school board, Puntledge would operate out of Lake Trail.

Noting a “dangerous trend” of declining enrolments and an aging populace, Stevens suggests looking no further than Union Bay to see the effect of closing the area’s only school.

He also suggests combining Puntledge and Lake Trail into a campus community model, mirroring that in Cumberland.

“This is a golden opportunity to do something exciting,” said Stevens, who feels revitalizing downtown Courtenay would be impossible if Puntledge closes. “What’s the point of rezoning for more families if there is no school? Every time we close a school, we weaken the neighbourhood. We’re talking about the glue that holds neighbourhoods together.”

Others spoke about the natural beauty surrounding École Puntledge, and safety concerns associated with Lake Trail. A government review of seismic risk to B.C. schools concluded that Lake Trail is at ‘high risk of damage or structural failure’ in the event of an earthquake. Puntledge was not found to be at risk.

A study conducted by the Keep Puntledge at Puntledge group counted 621 non-school related cars passing at the Lake Trail/Willemar intersection, compared to 27 non-related vehicles at Fourth and Willemar, where Puntledge is located.

“This is one of the most beautiful schools that you could ever imagine,” said Joel Mortyn, who has a child in kindergarten at Puntledge. “It’s safe, the kids love it, there’s access to the outdoors…There’s a lot of passion behind this school.”

Former Puntledge student Katherine Tinmouth moved back to the Valley so her daughter could attend the same school.

“When I learned about the proposed closure I was shocked,” Tinmouth said. “It really is not a good long-term plan. We have the right number of students in West Courtenay for the three elementary schools that are here, they’re just not in the right places.

“The best decision is one that keeps our best schools open and working into the future. And this is our best school,” Tinmouth added. “The options for what it could be used for aren’t good. It could be boarded up, it could be rented, or it could be sold to a private institution. It could even be sold to a developer. In my opinion, none of those options are good.”

Demeo has also recommended transferring Lake Trail Grade 8 and 9s to Vanier Secondary.

“We’re not ready to go,” Lake Trail student Hannah Lewis told trustees. “We’re scared to move. If you move us, we have to go farther away.”

While SD71 is “badly under-funded,” Stevens feels the school board is “over-administrated.

“We have a system of administration that is not sustainable.”

The district is facing an estimated $2.4 million shortfall heading into the 2016/17 school year, largely due to a declining enrolment of 143 students. It says the proposed closure and other changes could save about $720,000 a year, but Keep Puntledge at Puntledge says this amount is less than one per cent of SD71’s annual operating budget.

The group has proposed various alternative solutions. One idea is to keep Puntledge open and move Navigate (NIDES) to Lake Trail.

It also suggests the following cost-saving measures:

•freeze new administrative hiring;

•reduce superintendent and secretary-treasurer salaries;

•consider if each school needs a vice-principal;

•reduce senior administration by three or more (retirement or reassignment);

•eliminate ‘district principal’ designation;

•reduce human resources staff.

The school board will discuss the proposed closure of Puntledge — and other consultations — Tuesday, March 15.

An open letter to our school trustees

trustees at town hall
School Trustees at Puntledge Town Hall, doctor
March 8th

Dear Editor:

In response to last week’s articles covering the proposed Puntledge closure and the school district’s budget issues, I have framed this as an open letter.

Gloom has prevailed since Supt. Demeo’s “recommendation” to close Puntledge led the public to think the deal is done.  But that decision rests with you, our seven trustees on March 15, and I don’t envy your chair.  Closing a school is a painfully short-sighted stopgap which will create more financial problems than it solves. And Demeo’s rejection of viable options (like moving NIDES into Lake Trail to preserve its amenities) demands an explanation. If a backroom land deal was waiting in the wings and you didn’t act to safeguard our childrens’ futures, that would be unforgivable.

Plus, our top admin positions aren’t “forever jobs” with pay increases for eternity!  While headcounts declined over a decade, admin salaries kept rising to an average of $100K plus $25K in benefits.  Elwood came in as Supt. at $125K, leaving with $155K or greater.  But anyone can be given notice, and padding our district with high-end positions isn’t normal, it’s negligent.

There’s fear that losing Puntledge will destabilize our neighbourhood.  There’s anger at the lack of leadership and at those who think reducing services year after year won’t affect their lives. But the community has raised valuable alternatives. Over four months, Keep Puntledge at Puntledge parents gathered 1,600 signatures, made videos (7,000 views), wrote letters, postcards and a website (SavePuntledge.com) and above all, crunched numbers. We urge you to act for our future growth, and we encourage the public to say as much at our Town Hall at Puntledge on March 8th.

Small districts like ours are in a battle for their lives, and need win-win solutions to resist the vendetta against public education. You, the trustees, have the power to get us out of this mess.  You must put your heads together in wiseness and fairness, and make yourselves heroes for educational justice.

Dan Vie
Courtenay

Record, Mar. 9: Emotions run high at Puntledge forum

coleman votes

WHAT HAPPENED MARCH 15TH?  HERE’S THE TRANSCRIPT.

For the record, pills the Trustees’ remarks on the Puntledge closure from the final vote March 15th, 2016.  After 5 months, we finally got to hear what they were thinking.  This is worth a review: it gives insights into how we can work together the rest of the term.

Until the Chair made his comments, the vote looked like at least 4-3 and Puntledge was dead.  But the penny dropped when Weber took an economic stand against privatization, and within a few minutes it flipped to 6-1 and a win for Puntledge, with Coleman the lone vote.

What happened?  Why did certain Trustees turn their minds around?  Were they influenced by the consultation, the Town Hall, or any aspect of the Keep Puntledge campaign?  Was it pressure from the media, the unanimous letter from the City, the kids holding signs up in the room?  Was it just because of the Chair? Based on this transcript, we can only guess at the Board’s motives.

The next Board meeting is April 26.  Please come.

Transcript – The Vote on Puntledge Closure
SD71 Board meeting, March 15th, 2016

https://youtu.be/rnzX7hsCJR0?t=1816

(The room is at capacity, standing-room only. There is a phalanx of several large media cameras.  Parents and children are holding up signs.  Others are crammed in the foyer, while their kids do colouring activities on the floor.  The air hangs heavy with anticipation. The vote on Puntledge comes about 30 minutes into the meeting.)

Acting Supt. Demeo:  Recommendation number Three…

Trustee Boldt (jumping in):  I’d like to move that Ecole Puntledge Park Elementary School remain open, and that the Board direct Senior Administration to undertake a detailed review with the community of educational services in West Courtenay, and how to maximize the use of school facilities in West Courtenay – Debbie has a copy of the motion.

Chair Weber:  Thank you for that.  Can I have a comment on the motion that’s already on the table right now?

Trustee Caton:  You know what – I’m going to move to start the conversation. I move the recommendation. Start the conversation.

Chair Weber:  Can I have a seconder?  (Trustee Coleman.)

Caton:  So, to the recommendation on the table here.  (strongly)  We are here not because we want to be here.  No Trustee on this board wants to sit here and have a conversation about closing a school.  The reason we are here (tearing up) – I’m getting emotional about this one here – is that since 2008, our District has lost 1,000 students. We have cut eight million dollars from our budget.  We’re looking at $2.5 million dollars next year, $2.5 million the year after that.  My role as a trustee is to provide educational services for 7,000 students from K to 12 and make sure that every single student in this district has the same opportunities, and I cannot do that with the funding formula this government has put upon us.

We’re here tonight because the government has chosen us to go down this route.  The only way school districts now can manage their budgets is by closing schools. The Recommendation came to the Board to look at Ecole Puntledge Park Elementary.  We’ve had the consultations, we’ve had the conversations with our communities.  We’ve heard the pros, we’ve heard the cons.  We’ve heard that moving it up the hill to a better school works, leaving it  where it is works.  We’ve heard the seismic upgrading at Lake Trail is an issue, we’ve heard other issues at Puntledge.  My role as a trustee is to ensure my decision here affects every student in the District.  I’ve looked at everything, and I’ve read every single email that I’ve gotten, I’ve read every single report that I have, and I do have some concerns…I do have concerns regarding Lake Trail – the location of Lake Trail, the parking lot at Lake Trail – and that 60% of that school is seismically unsafe for elementary students – I do have that concern. At the end of the day, can you honestly say: do I support this recommendation?  And at this point in time I have to say, I’m on the fence, and I don’t know if I can support this recommendation as it is presented.  And that’s the end of my conversation.

(audience: some applause)

Weber:  Trustee Coleman?

Coleman:  Well I, you know I look at this primarily, of course, from the point of view of finance.  And it seems to me we really only have two choices.  We either close a school, and the one under consideration is Puntledge – or we lose another 8 or 10 teaching positions this year. And really, I see no alternative to that.  And the damage done by what cuts we’ve made in this District over the past four years has been felt right across the District – I’m not willing to vote for more teacher cuts, and yet that’s the only option I see on the table.  So I’m forced to vote for the closure. I’m bound to support the motion.

Weber:  Thank you – Trustee McDonnell.

McDonnell:  It’s interesting to hear that, because of course we’re under the pressure, and of course none of us want to do this or even consider it.  But the good thing about it is, we’re looking at choosing to close – we’re considering closing a school, so we do have a choice as to whether it’s Ecole Puntledge Park.  And I can understand completely when the proposal was first thought of, that we were looking at eliminating junior secondary, principal, staff, that could be accommodated in another junior secondary school, and that did have low capacity in itself.  And I can understand that somebody said, well you know, it’s a better school, it’s a bigger school than Puntledge Park – so let’s move them up there, it’ll be great.  Well, it turns out in the course of this process – and you know that I was skeptical at the start, because I know both those schools really, really well.  I know what a gem it is at Puntledge Elementary, I know it’s really not the same walking down the field to the stream than being there and looking at it and having that nature around.  And I know what a school Lake Trail is in terms of its resources, the assets that it has – what it can be for our district as a 21st century springboard, and what it is for that community. And that community, both the schools impacted, the entire West side, are vulnerable.  There’s an amazing growth of parents moving there on purpose, who are well-educated, skilled, and have super jobs, and they’ve chosen that area.  But there are also lots of families who are really struggling, and don’t have vehicles, and those schools are lifelines because of what they offer.  

So, when I look at this situation I say, well, what did we hear?  The original one was, we’re going to keep all that stuff in Lake Trail,  we’re going to keep the shops and art rooms.  Now it turns out the capacity doesn’t let us have that room. We have to turn many good classrooms, many community assets both for the kids and for the community at large, we have to get rid of them.  We have to create classrooms in rooms that don’t even have windows, they don’t see the outside.  Now, when we did a conversion of Queneesh, we were able to convert that school and still keep multi-purpose rooms for general use.  Every classroom in that school has windows.  It’s not comparable to say that we can convert a junior high, a middle school, we’ve done it before – they’re not the same.  So then we find out about the relative seismic risk – for me that’s just a non-starter.  I’m not happy there’s a seismic risk at Lake Trail, but it’s more OK for that population than it is for our 480 very small children.  So I’m not happy about it, but I still can make that rationale.  We find out about the traffic – and I had not thought about that.  But the traffic numbers are compelling.  It is way more congested.  And that’s not just a twenty minute traffic problem, that’s actually air quality issues.  Kids that are in schools that are on busy roads – and it is – really do suffer in their health. 

So then you look at a number of other things.  Losing the access to the pre-school rooms and Aboriginal HeadStart.  It’s not our main mandate, that’s for sure – but if we have the room, which we do at Puntledge, and we can make life easy for parents that supports those kids, we should do it.  We should not just say, oh, they’ll go somewhere else.  As you know, because Arden is crowded, they are running an after-school care at Lake Trail.  And it’s quite hard to get them down, it’s quite a thing of kids coming in at 3 o’clock.  But if we put Puntledge in there and there is no room for those functions, Arden is shut, Puntledge is shut – where are those 90 kids going to go?  We have a chance to just leave Puntledge where it is.  And we heard from parents, of course we know it’s the teachers, and they create magic there, and they will do the same in Lake Trail, but beyond that – the two schools as elementaries are not comparable.  We will end up, you could call it, turning a silk purse into a sow’s ear.  The reverse, really.  We have this magic thing.  I admit, maintenance issues, right, we know that, that’s fine.  You can address those and improve the value of Puntledge, and really reflect… that school’s priceless, it really is priceless.  

(loud applause)

McDonnell:  And the other piece is, if we vote to leave that school there, we still do have to find the savings.  And so we have a couple of options.  We could immediately start a closure process on Lake Trail, which is really what we’re talking about closing.  We could do that, and we have time to do it, and if anything it deserves to have a focus on it.  And I’ll tell you, when we look at it we’ll actually see what it offers as an asset, and realize that doing a conversion, and stripping out all of those special things – we end up with a jerry-rigged elementary school, instead of this priceless gem, that anybody would want to have in their school district.  We end up with this jerry-rigged elementary school that’s adequate, it’ll work, of course it’ll work, it’s adequate – but we also lose this amazing junior school, which might continue to have local kids in, I think there’s rationale for that – or it could become a learning centre, or we could move the school board offices in with, or we could move student services in… the City might buy it for a rec centre.  We partner with all these groups – there are so many opportunities for that school, that save those operating costs, that spend our capital dollars improving a school rather than wrecking a school.  

(applause)

McDonnell:  We really end up with a win.  and I get it – it looked like a good idea.  And then you go, well, maybe not – so what’s plan B?  Plan B is in front of us.  The thing I really feel concerned about is that we represent the public interest, and both of those schools are pretty amazing assets.  When we’ve heard from the public how important it is to them as an elementary that has certain features:  the nature, the special needs way they work, the childcare spaces, the quiet access to the playground, the ability to close off and do Whacky Wheely, you couldn’t do that at Lake Trail – the play space, which is pretty diverse, and the stream, it’s not a walk-to but it’s right there.  So when we hear about what the public want, overwhelmingly – we don’t have social license to do anything.  When there is an option, the social license we have is to keep that school open.  When we were considering closing Tsolum and Union Bay, the savings came from closing those schools.  Not from moving those kids somewhere else.  When we had Cape Lazo and Brooklyn, and there was a choice offered,  and surprisingly the parents wanted the old Brooklyn – in the end, we didn’t do it.  That was their choice.  Certain things are more important than a big gym.  And when you look at it, at the end of the consultation, after all the things that were offered like the art room and the foods room and the bigger this and that – the only thing that you end up with is a bigger gym, there is not enough space for the school, you lose the connection to nature, you’re in a congested and unhealthy site, and you irrevocably destroy Lake Trail’s capacity to do other functions for us. 

So I find it kind of ironic when we think we might renovate Lake Trail and take the adult washrooms out and put little kid washrooms in, and then renovate Puntledge for School Board offices and take the little kid washrooms out and put adult washrooms in.

(loud laughter, cheers, applause)

McDonnell:  The two schools are designed to meet certain needs, they can continue to meet those needs, the savings are there if we address the issues of Lake Trail, on its own.  Thank you Tom.

Weber:  Thank you.

(applause)

Weber:  Trustee Boldt.

Boldt:  Trustee Sheila made more eloquent comments that I could make but in her comments there a lot of “ors” – we could do this, or we could do that – and those are what concern me.  The City Council last night voted to support keeping Puntledge open, they are in the middle of a revitalization of the downtown area, and they’re dealing with the homeless situation in the west end – I’m looking at this issue from a West Courtenay perspective, and I think we need to look at the maximization of facilities over the next 10-15 years, and I think Trustee Sheila has made some of those points.  We don’t know what’s going to happen in the next 10-15 years, but it’s pretty obvious to our real estate friends that all the expansion is moving west. The east is full, and they want to revitalize the downtown core because development is going to the West.  In the future the prices are going to be cheaper than east Courtenay, so we can expect little ones to be moving into that area. And if we close Puntledge, and close Lake Trail as a middle school, we are reducing our options.  What I think we need, and in the Closure Committee report the Option #3 made it quite clear that if we take a breath, take a pause and look at some of the creative and innovative things that could happen in West Courtenay for the K-12 and K-7 programs we would go farther.  I think what we’re doing right now by closing this school, two schools we’re closing, we’re not just closing one, we’re closing two schools – we’re cutting off our nose to spite our face and I cannot support the motion.

(loud applause)

Weber:  Trustee Hargreaves or Brown?

Trustee Brown:  This is a terribly difficult situation.  I get that you guys are really attached to your school; I would be too, it’s in a beautiful location – but we need to look at the long-term health of the District – and the Lake Trail facility is a better facility –

(audience, much yelling “No!”)

Brown: Are we really going to have a debate?  

Weber (drily): We’re not debating – just listen please, thank you –

Brown:  We’ve listened to everything you’ve said, we’ve read every email, we’ve read every letter, we’ve listened to your comments at the hearing – 

Weber:  Trustee Brown, talk to the Trustees, you’re not engaging…

Brown:  I believe Lake Trail is the better school; I believe if we’re going to invest money in making a school better, then we need to start with one that’s got a solid foundation… I also believe that, while there were many different proposals put forward, I couldn’t, in looking at them in detail, find one that would work, that would save us the same amount of money – Puntledge Park needs $500,000 worth of work in deferred maintenance, will the Grade Sevens fit in Puntledge Park, on top of the school that’s already there?  I think if we’re going to invest in a West Courtenay school, it’s going to be Lake Trail.

Weber: Thank you – Trustee Hargreaves.

Hargreaves:  I’ve looked at some of the background history – I found it fascinating that Lake Trail was initially built as an elementary school.  It was changed to an elementary school after, the same as we’re doing with other schools.  In the last ten years, boards in this district have closed Union Bay – a rural school.  Tsolum – a rural school.  Black Creek – a rural school.  Glacierview – east side school.  Brooklyn – east side school.  Village Park – east side school.  Comox Elementary – east side school.  These have been closed in the last ten years because of the political philosophy of this province, and the priorities of the government – that’s not changing.  And it doesn’t matter where we build out here, or where we build on the islands, or where we build anything else – as long as that political philosophy and those priorities continue to exist, there is no school in this district that is safe from being closed.  And as for cutting jobs – the only jobs that will be cut in this next round will be non-enrolment teachers.  Those are teachers that deal with our most vulnerable students.  Those are not teachers who are standing in front of a class of thirty or more, they are people that are dealing with special needs individuals in the district.   Severe behaviour problems.  Multiple handicaps.  Those are the people that we are going to be (unintelligible on tape), and those are the kids that I have to speak for. As well as all the other students.  Now, as far as Puntledge being a “gem” – I taught there for ten years.  No one is going to tell me that that building is a gem.  It is not.  And I’m sorry that you don’t realize that.  I would love to see that building get the money, I wish we had the money to go in there and redo the whole inside of it and make it into what it should be now, but at this point, it has classrooms that are used as hallways – that is not a good learning environment for anyone’s children.  And people pass through those.  And those teachers, yes they learn to get along with it, and to survive it – but it is not healthy for the learning environment of the children in those rooms.  

The other aspect, I took a tour of it, two tours, the one that was offered by the PAC and I took my own, as an alumni of Puntledge.  And the rooms that used to stink when I there still stink, if not worse now. The aspect of having the corridors blocked off, making the whole centre courtyard area like a prison – that was never there when I was there, it was open all the way around, right to the front.  Now granted, the one hallway that does exist in that school is part of the new complex that was built, that’s good.  But the rest of the building? No, it is not a gem, at all.  The location may be considered a gem, but again, I have known teachers that have had all kinds of respiratory problems because of the fog that sits down in there (crowd reacts with incredulity) almost six months of the year.  But – they can be ignored because they’re only teachers. However, in 2008, it was recommended to the Board that Puntledge Park be closed. That was deferred at that time.  It’s come back around now, we could defer it as well. But it’s only a matter of time, as long as you’ve got the same political philosophy and priorities that continue to exist.  And I haven’t seen any, anything, even talking with the MLA, he’s seen only a couple of parents come down there.  I didn’t hear of any massive letters, any massive cards going to any of them;  I didn’t see any protests down at his office – I saw them downtown, I went down and had a look at that, but I didn’t see them down at his office pounding on his door.  In fact, when I’ve talked to most people, what they’ve said is: close this, don’t close this. Let’s close Arden, let’s close Courtenay El.  Nobody, when I was talking to them, said, let’s get rid of the problem.  

Weber:  Thank you.  OK.  I have something to say.  And I actually have notes.  How close are children sitting to where I’m sitting?  Because my internal Peter Finch is going to come out.  And if you don’t know who Peter Finch is, then Google him quickly.  So I want to start by thanking senior staff for this phenomenally complex problem in providing guidance to all of us, that’s inclusive of trustees and the public, through this process.  It’s no easy task to have done, in the face of change in our senior leadership, the Superintendent and Secretary-Treasurer position, on top of all the other expectations, like your regular job that we demand of you.  I also want to thank my trustee colleagues who maintained objectivity during this process, in particular the new Trustees, Trustee Hargreaves and Trustee Brown – I appreciate that, this is a (word missing) duty, the responsibility of a Trustee through a process like this is to maintain objectivity, demonstrate objectivity through the process, and I would like to thank my colleagues Trustee Caton and Trustee Coleman for the same (words missing).  

I want to talk about what didn’t influence my decision.  What didn’t influence my decision is that my own kids attended this school.  This process has been going on for so long now, that when it started, as my trustee colleagues know, I was a reasonably happily married guy, and now a Puntledge parent is representing my wife through a divorce proceeding.  So that didn’t influence my decision either.  Nostalgia doesn’t influence my decision around this.  The reference to the crime rate in the Lake Trail area I find particularly offensive – I don’t live in the Lake Trail area, but I think if I lived in the Lake Trail area I would take huge exception with those broad stroke comments that suggest that one end of the property is a more risky neighbourhood to attend school – that is just absolute nonsense.

Seismic concerns between the schools:  I recognize that there are differentiations between, but neither school is relatively safer or unsafer than the next, in my view.  I also believe, unfortunately, in having been through a number of these, and having been part of them in the 1980’s in another province, as school closure is not a brand new issue – is that school closure is more of an issue for parents than for our children – our children are rather resilient, and their primary interest is to be with their friends and their teachers that they like.  The access to the environment is an interesting one, and I disagree – I appreciate your point, Trustee McDonnell, but slightly differ, in that the opportunities to access the environment is something that still would be available.

The other thing that didn’t influence my decision, and I sat patiently through, but man, I’ve gotta tell you how hard it was to bite my tongue at times: the conspiracy theorists I find particularly offensive, as an extremely lazy way of thinking, and I also think it’s curious that conspiracy theorists only come out when they’re worried about your view opposing theirs – they don’t think it’s conspiracy when everybody conspires to support you.  And I find that particularly offensive, and again, I’ll be careful with my language, but I’m happy to have a debate with any conspiracy theorist who thinks that the Board or any members of the Board conspired to cook the books or make a decision ahead of time – that is particularly offensive.  Notwithstanding the above, I think that the views and opinions from the community were varied and were well thought-out, and were super-appreciated.

The savings: the costs involved in upgrading Lake Trail vs. the costs involved in upgrading Puntledge – there are costs associated with that.  Recognize that the school we’re talking about, Puntledge, is at near-capacity, and is in full use.  Which differentiates it, somewhat, from schools which we’ve had to deal with in the past. The future use of the site:  there isn’t a covenant on the property, so technically, or legally, there’s really no true barrier for embarking on an alternate use of the land. We could begin a process at some future date, to subdivide the property and do whatever.  Disposing of, arguably, selling the land would be a complex process – I think Trustees are aware of that.  This is not simply a matter of hammering a For Sale sign on the front lawn and entertaining offers.  Selling the land for something for other than educational use hasn’t really been the history in this District.  So I cite Tsolum.  Now recognize that Tsolum has a covenant attached to it that the property can only be used for educational purposes, and it has been utilized in recent years as NIDES. Glacierview has been repurposed to be used by the School District.  Village Park was sold to the French school district, but is still being used for educational purposes. And Brooklyn the same – being used for educational purposes by other parties.

So should Puntledge be sold, what would its future use be?  And that’s likely for a future board to decide, because how these things tend to progress, it’s not something that we would be seized with, or seize ourselves with, over the remaining 2.5 years of our tenure.  The relocation of the Board office is highly unlikely – every school that’s been closed in the past, it’s always been: hey, let’s move the Board office there. And as much as this building needs to be vacated, and perhaps the Board office moved someplace else, it is extremely unlikely, in my view, that the future home of the Board office would be at Puntledge Park.  Repurposing for other School District 71 educational needs:  well, perhaps.  But as has been pointed out, Lake Trail, or parts of Lake Trail, could be used for that now – if in fact, that’s something that we want to do.  Subdivide the land, demolish, sell – I think that is extremely unlikely;  this isn’t a property that I envision in my lifetime, and I hope to live a few more years, that will develop condominiums, apartment buildings, even low-cost housing – I don’t think that that’s something that’s in the cards.

The most likely option – and here’s where the rub is for me – the most likely option is that, going on the pattern of history, is that SD 71 would be approached almost immediately by a third party who would say: hey!  We’ll buy that building from you and use it for educational purposes.  And I’m troubled by that – not because I have a philosophical bent against independent schools, that’s totally fine.  But I am concerned that, if that were to be the case – and granted, it would be this Board’s decision or a future Board’s decision to ignore that – but again, history suggests that Boards have to really to look at that, and entertain that, and this Board has made that decision in the past, and others as well.

So I appreciate that this is stringing together a lot of points that may in fact not be strung together, but the concern that I have, in the end, is that if we close and vacate Puntledge Park, it will become the future site and home of another educational opportunity, that would, ironically, recruit from the existing population that we have – not necessarily all from that area, but certainly from our District.  Again, that’s not my view against independent schools – but I’m loath as a Trustee of SD 71 to pave a path and lay track for other educational partners to come and use our (word obscured). So it’s on that point – and weighing the complex cost-benefits of closing Puntledge, I totally get that – it’s for that reason that I would not support the motion.

(crowd erupts into loud cheering)

Weber:  Trustee Caton is calling for the Motion…

Caton:  So I’m calling the question if all have spoken, so it’s time to call the Motion…

Weber:  Hold on – do we…

McDonnell (jumping in):  I just feel that this is such an important issue, making a big decision – it would be appreciated if we, making a sole…

Weber:  If you have new information to add… if you have the same information to say over again, then…

McDonnell:  I could speak, so much, as to those other options and questions – but I want to put it to you as Trustees and where you’re at, even though some of you have expressed concerns about the state of the building – we’re at a point… so, I’m begging all of you, to be looking for a way to say “yes” to leaving Puntledge where it is.   And it falls into that thing where, we thought it was a good idea and it turns out not to be, and the place where it balances, I share the Chair’s concerns about the devastation of seeing that in the hands of another educational institution.  But really, it’s about our leadership, right now.  We need to be positive.  We’ve talked about community engagement, and we are doing a lot of consultation, and a lot of change.  And this is the moment when we need to be courageous leaders, and we need to be visionary leaders (applause) and we need to be looking to retaining future opportunities for growth, for creative solutions to capacity, like the Lake Trail issue.

And if we vote to turn down this… this is the social license piece – we have a groundswell of people who have organized for something that’s important, and their community, and if we say no, the skepticism and discouragement will not just apply to this school – and it’s something that we don’t have to do – it’s going to apply to the whole District.  Others are going to say, why would we bother?  Why would we be engaged with them, why won’t they try something new and be flexible, because it’s not going to work.  Not only that, if we support this group, some of them may say it’s over and go away, but some of them – this amazing capacity, these talented people, will be going down to McRae’s office and supporting it, as we try to carry a message about the importance of public education.  And that positive move will be something – we heard people, we want to do something positive – yes, we’re under a lot a pressure to just cut, cut, cut, but we actually think there’s a way to invest in the best things in our school.  And that will affect all the other consultations we are doing, about the alternate week, or about the budget in general.  And we put ourselves in a way better place, if we make the right decision on this.  Thank you Tom.

Weber:  So, on the Motion before you, all those in favour –

(Trustee Coleman shoots his arm up in the air)

Weber:  And opposed –

(the Motion stands at 6-1)

Weber:  And the Motion is defeated.

(the room erupts in wild, boisterous cheering – people jump to their feet, applauding)

Weber (over crowd):  Could I see Shelley’s hand? Shelley? Could you put your hand up?  So, I want everybody to see Shelley.  Because Shelley’s going to be here next month.  And I wonder how many of you are going to be here next month to pay attention to what’s going on in the District?

Audience member (puts hand up): I’ll be here!!

Weber:  Excellent!  (banging gavel)  Ok, we have a meeting….

Caton (over crowd):  I’m wondering, if #8 is contingent on having a conversation on….the boundaries, the existing boundaries…. (drowned out)

Weber:  OK, we’ll take five minutes….

Emotions run high at Puntledge forum

Scott Stanfield, look
Comox Valley Record
– March 9, 2016
http://www.comoxvalleyrecord.com/news/371559921.html

town hall big group
Early in his career when Jack Stevens taught at Lake Trail, he would walk to school through Puntledge Park and the trails on the Morrison Creek side of First Avenue. In 33 years as a teacher/principal in B.C., the retired Stevens never saw another quite like the site at Lake Trail/Puntledge.

“I never experienced a more exciting site,” Stevens told trustees of the Comox Valley School District (SD71) Tuesday at a townhall-style meeting at the Puntledge gym. “We’re all in this together. It’s a community resource. We’ve got to preserve the schools we have.”

SD71 acting superintendent Tom Demeo — in attendance Tuesday — has recommended closing École Puntledge Park Elementary as of June 30. Pending approval from the school board, Puntledge would operate out of Lake Trail.

Noting a “dangerous trend” of declining enrolments and an aging populace, Stevens suggests looking no further than Union Bay to see the effect of closing the area’s only school.

He also suggests combining Puntledge and Lake Trail into a campus community model, mirroring that in Cumberland.

“This is a golden opportunity to do something exciting,” said Stevens, who feels revitalizing downtown Courtenay would be impossible if Puntledge closes. “What’s the point of rezoning for more families if there is no school? Every time we close a school, we weaken the neighbourhood. We’re talking about the glue that holds neighbourhoods together.”

Others spoke about the natural beauty surrounding École Puntledge, and safety concerns associated with Lake Trail. A government review of seismic risk to B.C. schools concluded that Lake Trail is at ‘high risk of damage or structural failure’ in the event of an earthquake. Puntledge was not found to be at risk.

A study conducted by the Keep Puntledge at Puntledge group counted 621 non-school related cars passing at the Lake Trail/Willemar intersection, compared to 27 non-related vehicles at Fourth and Willemar, where Puntledge is located.

“This is one of the most beautiful schools that you could ever imagine,” said Joel Mortyn, who has a child in kindergarten at Puntledge. “It’s safe, the kids love it, there’s access to the outdoors…There’s a lot of passion behind this school.”

Former Puntledge student Katherine Tinmouth moved back to the Valley so her daughter could attend the same school.

“When I learned about the proposed closure I was shocked,” Tinmouth said. “It really is not a good long-term plan. We have the right number of students in West Courtenay for the three elementary schools that are here, they’re just not in the right places.

“The best decision is one that keeps our best schools open and working into the future. And this is our best school,” Tinmouth added. “The options for what it could be used for aren’t good. It could be boarded up, it could be rented, or it could be sold to a private institution. It could even be sold to a developer. In my opinion, none of those options are good.”

Demeo has also recommended transferring Lake Trail Grade 8 and 9s to Vanier Secondary.

“We’re not ready to go,” Lake Trail student Hannah Lewis told trustees. “We’re scared to move. If you move us, we have to go farther away.”

While SD71 is “badly under-funded,” Stevens feels the school board is “over-administrated.

“We have a system of administration that is not sustainable.”

The district is facing an estimated $2.4 million shortfall heading into the 2016/17 school year, largely due to a declining enrolment of 143 students. It says the proposed closure and other changes could save about $720,000 a year, but Keep Puntledge at Puntledge says this amount is less than one per cent of SD71’s annual operating budget.

The group has proposed various alternative solutions. One idea is to keep Puntledge open and move Navigate (NIDES) to Lake Trail.

It also suggests the following cost-saving measures:

•freeze new administrative hiring;

•reduce superintendent and secretary-treasurer salaries;

•consider if each school needs a vice-principal;

•reduce senior administration by three or more (retirement or reassignment);

•eliminate ‘district principal’ designation;

•reduce human resources staff.

The school board will discuss the proposed closure of Puntledge — and other consultations — Tuesday, March 15.

Saving Puntledge: Will You Speak?

save-puntledge-duct-tape-mouth

FEELING MUZZLED? The school’s extended community are the ones with direct experience of how well Puntledge operates. They are the local experts, site not administrators, and they need to be heard. The Town Hall on Tuesday, March 8th at 6:30 p.m. at Puntledge is the opportunity to tell your story and let the Trustees hear that Puntledge works, it is fine, just leave it alone! We are not powerless, but we must exercise our power.

Here’s a bit of inspiration about ‘speaking truth to power’:

“Our stories must articulate an alternative and more compelling vision. We must be foreshadowing the compelling outcomes of the stories we tell. The visions articulated by progressives are too often steeped in the “sky’s falling” metaphor. Problem is, the sky’s still up there and people are tired of hearing that from us. People don’t want to think problems are insolvable. Society’s fear of a vacuum often leads us to choose familiar evils over unknowns. It is up to us to provide the vision that makes the unknown alternatives real. The good news is we know there are solutions that work — not only technical solutions like anti-pollution scrubbers in smokestacks, but policy solutions like getting money out of politics, and systemic solutions like building grassroots movements for real democracy.

It is not enough for our side just to criticize, people need to have tangible opportunities to engage not only their minds, but also their hearts and their hands in building alternatives. It isn’t enough to tear down the world, we must offer up what we would build in its place. Don’t stop there, though! In order to win the Battle of the Story we must also understand and challenge the power holder’s stories. The first step in re-taking control of the narrative is to diligently compare our story with the one we are battling. There are critical lessons inherent in this exercise.

Truth to Power: Frequently, when we stop to really look, we find that the power holders have framed their story using the same sympathetic characters as change agents. Attacks on welfare are presented as benefiting working mothers. We are told corporate tax cuts are undertaken on behalf of the unemployed. Giant agribusiness firms use family farmers in their TV ads. The timber industry uses public concern about forest fires as an excuse to clear cut our national forests. After the World Trade Organization talks collapsed in Seattle, the Economist magazine didn’t put a sulking millionaire on the cover — they featured a starving child and claimed the protests would hurt the world’s poor. Time and time again, power holders employ Orwellian logic by hijacking the real people who are sympathetic characters. There is a big difference between appropriating someone’s story and actually magnifying their voice. That’s why ultimately progressives can win the Battle of the Story. Everyday thousands of grassroots activists are fighting the Battle of the Story in their own communities as they work to build a more democratic, just and ecologically sane society from the ground up. With all of our compelling stories, sensational conflicts and infectious memes, community advocates will ultimately out do the multi-million dollar PR campaigns and crack the media monopolies. Because the truth — at least when well told — is stronger than lies.”

Source:  http://www.storybasedstrategy.org/uploads/4/5/4/4/45442925/14-sm-battleofstory.pdf