Rural school closing

Ombudsperson going to investigate one, maybe more, complaints

Bridge Lake parents and residents were visibly upset when School District #27 school trustees unanimously gave third reading to a closure bylaw for Bridge Lake Elementary School.

Those who attended the special school board meeting on April 19, which saw trustees gave first and second readings for the bylaw to close the rural school in June, and those attended the April 26, meeting likely knew the closure was inevitable.

They were hoping the trustees would change their minds, but it was not to be.

The uphill battle to try to defer a school closure decision for one year began on Jan. 26.

That was the day the school board announced it would be entering into a 90-day public consultation process regarding the possible closure of Bridge Lake Elementary School at of the end of the 2015/16 school year.

The press release that accompanied the start of the consultation process outlined some of the reasons why the elected officials thought it would be financially responsible to close the school and bus the remaining elementary school-aged children to Horse Lake Elementary School.

The press release also noted student population had been steadily declining in the past few years.

The response was swift from the parents and the community as Interlakes Economic Association president Dianne Lawson sent a number of questions to school board chair Tanya Guenther following a meeting of concerned citizens.

Those questions were never answered.

Instead, superintendent Mark Thiessen informed the media that the trustees had decided to share all of the information at a public meeting at Bridge Lake Elementary School on March 2.

Instead of being able to voice their concerns directly to the trustees, the people who packed the school gymnasium were told they would have to participate in a World-café style meeting, and school district staff would determine who would be able to talk on the microphone at the end of the meeting and what questions they could speak to.

It was at that meeting, when the board didn’t answer the questions that were originally put to them and completely controlled the meeting, that community residents and parents realized the school board was likely going to bulldoze through the consultation period, move into the bylaw readings and, eventually, close the school.

Now, the school will close and children, parents, residents and business owners will have to put up with the consequences.

The school board will be able to cut down some of it budget deficit.

However, it will be interesting to see what happens now that residents have sent their complaints to the Office of the Ombudsperson and there will be at least one, if not more, investigations of the way staff and trustees dealt with the situation.