Community waiting for answers from school district

Residents unhappy about potential closure of Bridge Lake Elementary School

Bridge Lake and area residents are starting to rally against the potential closure of the Bridge Lake Elementary School (BLES).

Last month, School District 27 (SD27) trustees decided to start a 90-day public-consultation process for the potential closure of BLES at the end of the current school year.

The decision was made at their Jan. 26 school board meeting.

However, the school board didn’t notify the parents or community members the potential closure was up for discussion.

Last week, BLES Parent Advisory Committee (PAC) chair Piri DeVries said she was very disappointed about the way SD27 handled the decision-making process.

“We didn’t hear anything about it until it was a done deal and they gave us one day’s notice to come to a meeting at the school to talk about.”

DeVries added she was away from the community and the other parents weren’t able to meet with the SD27 representatives either.

On Jan. 28, school board chair Tanya Guenther noted that since 2013, school trustees have closed four schools due to district-wide school enrolment capacity and budget-constraint issues, and one due to damage caused by flooding.

In considering the potential closure, the board stated it considered the following factors:

Enrolment

There were 27 students in 2013/14; 20 students in 2014/15; six students in 2015/16, and there are 13 eligible students in the Bridge Lake School catchment area.

Budget

Ministry grants for rural schools and assists school boards by providing extra financial support for lower enrolments.

Schools with an enrolment between nine and 110 students receive $162,400, but when the enrolment declines to eight or fewer, the Ministry grant is reduced to $77,325, which is less than 50 per cent.

Proximity to another school

Bridge Lake Elementary School is 38 kilometres away from Horse Lake Elementary School (HLES).

Last week, Interlakes Economic Association president Dianne Lawson sent a letter to Guenther with a number of questions, but with a high priority on the top 4:

What is the total number of students who attend HLES who are out of the catchment area and what catchment areas are the children from?

How many children has Stats Canada provided for the number of children under the age of five in the BLES catchment area?

How many of the children in the BLES catchment area already have to travel more than 15 kilometres to BLES, and how many and what would their total travelling time be to HLES if the board decides to close BLES?

What does the Ministry of Education/school board consider as the maximum number of kilometres for children to have to travel under the age of nine?

Guenther replied that she would ask SD27 staff “to provide a response to the questions [Dianne Lawson] have submitted.”

In the SD27 statement on Jan. 28, the school board chair said: “It is disappointing to now be faced with considering the closure of the Bridge Lake Elementary School due to declining enrolment. We understand this may have a major impact to the community of Bridge Lake.”

The fact that the school is the “meeting centre” for the community weighs heavily on the area residents and they worry about what will happen if SD27 closes the school in June.

Lawson also addressed this issue with a number of questions:

Who would pay for the “moth ball” costs of BLES if it was to close?

What does the school board plan on doing with the school?

How will this closure effect public access to the building by the residents of the community?

What will happen with the CRD Library at the school?

The school PAC and other community groups are having a meeting tomorrow night (Feb. 12) and they will be talking about finding ways to keep the school open.

Lawson said the community still has a lot of questions that need to be answered.

As of Feb. 9, the school board staff had not responded to the top 4 questions needed for Friday night’s community meeting at 6 p.m.