A new elementary school for Lake Cowichan remains one of the main goals for School District 79.
At a public consultation meeting focused on property disposal held this past Saturday at Lake Cowichan School, SD79 treasurer Bob Harper confirmed the goal to be a top priority for the board.
“A new elementary school at the Lake still sits as our number one priority,” said Harper. “The former Yount site (in Youbou) is not the proposed site for the new elementary school. The preferred site still on the books is the AB Greenwell site, but it’s entirely the provincial government’s call although we can influence that.
“The A.B. Greenwell site is on crown land so if the board’s decision is that it’s no longer required for public education, that reverts back to the crown. Stanley Gordon is also on crown land. So there’s no money to be gained there, it’s just costing us money to keep it standing.”
SD79 has identified four potential buildings for disposal as it looks to give capital funding a boost.
Those buildings are the former Yount Elementary site, the former Charles Hoey VC Primary site in Duncan, the former Mill Bay Elementary and the school board office complex on Beverly Street in Duncan.
With regards to the latter, SD79 is exploring the possibility of moving the board office under the same roof as Duncan Elementary.
“The board has already declared that those buildings will no longer be used for educational purposes,” said Harper. “Now we need to decide whether to keep them for future educational use, public use by local government, sell them off to another market, or start a long-term lease that will turn into a sale.
“Our next step is to meet with community groups and we’ve already had some interest from local government. July 2014 is the earliest a decision will be made on disposal. The disposal would then be a minimum eight-month process and that’s done on purpose to prevent knee-jerk reactions.”
Official trustee Mike McKay now wishes to look forward after so much recent change in the school district.
“Thankfully lots of the challenging decisions last year mean that the district is much more positive and robust this year. The consultation of school closure is always a difficult journey.”
Superintendent Joseph Rhodes stated that school children always remain the district’s main focus.
“Last year we wanted to stay focused on the kids,” said Rhodes. “It’s important they move forward with the skills on what they want to do next. We know we have literacy challenges as our data tells us we continually lag behind in that department. In order to engage the teenagers we need to provide a wide range of courses. Lake Cowichan School is a classic example. They’ve managed to come up with a structure that increases opportunity.”
Harper also said that “our funding is defined by student enrolment and popularity. Last year we had 7,423 students enrol compared to 11,100 back in 1997. We are predicting 40 or 50 less for next year.
“In 2011, 81.5% of our budget went into instruction. This year it was just over 82%. The gap in our expected expenditure and expected revenue has narrowed. It’s an education business and we’re in a better position this year than the past few years.”