By Lorene Keitch

A public hearing regarding facility use changes saw paltry turnout from local parents.

Rocky Mountain School District Six trustees invited the public to present concerns on the long-term facility draft plan at David Thompson Secondary School (DTSS) last Wednesday, April 26th.

Of the 16 or so attendees, only three or four were concerned parents and only one spoke up on record to voice issues, with another then speaking up to say she agreed with the first commenter. The rest in attendance were school board officials and employees.

I am unimpressed and frankly concerned with both the outcome of this process, and the process itself, said local parent Julie Brown.

The revised 130-page draft plan, made public April 11th, addresses potential changes in Kimberley, Golden and Invermere. Recommendations for the Windermere zone include an expansion of Eileen Madson Primary School (EMP) to accommodate kindergarten to Grade 7 (K-7) students, with proposed catchment areas split north and south of 13th and 14th Street; maintain Edgewater, Windermere and Martin Morigeau elementary schools as K-7; complete an internal facility assessment at Edgewater and Windermere schools for major upgrades to the building envelope; and encourage international fee paying student registrations at DTSS as well as explore options and partners to construct an auto mechanics shop at the school.

Ms. Brown is opposed to two K-7 schools within Invermere, to the lack of transparency on the motives for this change, lack of regard for community input, and the very obvious bias that preceded, and coloured the entire process.

Ms. Brown went on to say the board established from the start of the process to reconfigure the K-7 grades and then selected research to endorse their decision.

The research that has been cited does not reflect our culture, rural status nor is it born of well-respected educational models, she said.

The public hearings purpose was to allow the board to hear presentations from the public, not for debate or question and answer, so no comments were given by the trustees in response to Ms. Browns issues. However, given the lack of other speakers, she was provided with more time to elaborate on her comments.

Amber Byklum, board chairperson and Windermere zone representative, read a prepared statement prior to opening the floor for questions. She reported the facility plan is not just designed to identify the need for capital projects, but is in fact a comprehensive plan outlining how the district will manage its school facilities in order to deliver its educational programs at the highest possible standard.

She said district long term facility plans are required by the provincial Ministry of Education, and are needed to support capital plan requests as well as support educational plans of the school district over a 10-year window. Areas of concern in the Rocky Mountain School District identified include lack of core curriculum space, lack of special education space, bussing routes and costs and potential ineligibility for funding of capital projects because of imbalanced numbers in different schools.

Ms. Byklum also noted there has not been consensus within the board on certain aspects of the long-term facility plan. In a follow-up interview, Ms. Ms. Byklum confirmed the board has not reached consensus, and felt it important to seek further public input.

We are undecided, and this is why we wanted to come back to the public, she said.

Ms. Byklum remarked on the low turnout at the meeting, saying there have been many people who have approached the board with both positive and negative feedback about the draft proposal outside of an official forum, and that the meeting is not necessarily an indication of lack of interest.

From staff members to the general public, grandmas and grandpas and parents, all have contacted us in one way or another, she reports. In any contentious situation, you do hear vocally from people who are opposed. Its not to say the people who are silent are either agreeing or disagreeing.

The contentious issue at the previous public hearing, held last October, was most certainly the proposal to turn both EMP and J.A. Laird Elementary School into K-7 schools. The most recent meetings attendance was in stark contrast to last Octobers public hearing, which saw more than 40 parents show up to voice their concerns with the draft proposal.

The draft proposal is scheduled to be finalized at the next regular board meeting, Tuesday, May 9th at Eileen Madson Primary School.

Similar public hearings were held in Kimberley and Golden. In Kimberly, 35 to 40 people showed up with 15 speaking out. Golden saw more than 30 attend, with at least 20 speaking to the matter at hand.