"Utter stupidity," is how COPE School Trustee Allen Blakey describes the Vancouver NPA school trustees’ UBC/Dunbar Street Study of school closures. Blakey says the study, which reviews only one part of the entire district in isolation from the rest of the district’s schools, is "a fragmented and totally inadequate approach."
All three COPE trustees want a report prepared by former Vancouver School Board facilities director Les King to be released immediately to counter the current piecemeal approach to school closures. King’s report, commissioned by the previous Board, was tabled in camera last June by the NPA. COPE trustees say this is the only document that provides a district-wide perspective on school closures, as well as program consolidation, amalgamation and re-location.
Rushed agenda mocks public consultation:
COPE Trustee Sharon Gregson said scheduling six back-to-back meetings, the first at University Hill Secondary on January14, and the last on January 22, “makes a mockery of the board’s claim to meaningful consultation." Parent and teacher representatives have also strongly criticized the Board’s rushed agenda.
Gregson notes that District Parent Advisory Committee representatives are concerned that parents do not have adequate time to study all the detailed documentation released by the Board.
Sale and leasing of school building challenged:
COPE trustees say plans to sell off school property and lease some buildings is flawed. The decision to reach an agreement with UBC by this March to eventually move University Hill secondary into a building vacated by the National Research Council in the University Endowment Lands, is particularly ill-conceived. COPE trustees point out that UBC is offering the Board only a limited lease on the NRC building.
“There is an urgent need for proper facilities for U Hill students, as their current school is cramped and inadequate,” said Blakey, “But this rushed plan skews the entire proposal and could impact negatively on other schools in the Dunbar area."
COPE trustees also strongly disagree with the rush to sell taxpayer owned land at Queen Elizabeth School Annex in order to defray the cost of new schools before considering other options. Furthermore, with the ongoing explosion of the school population in the University Endowment lands, the possibility of needing two new elementary schools, not one, was very much in the mix.
Vancouver’s 16 school annexes at risk:
Within the past six weeks the Board has announced the possible closure of two of the city’s 16 school annexes – Garibaldi, on the Eastside, and Queen Elizabeth on the Westside – without considering the district-wide implications of closing these valued, entities.
With an average of 100 students each, these small, closely knit annexes are unique to Vancouver and have been providing services for young children from kindergarten to Grades 3 and 4 for over 45 years. So far there has been no district-wide consultation with parents and teachers about the continued existence of annexes.
Seismic upgrading concerns emerge:
“I am appalled that since this NPA-dominated board has come to power in 2005, not a single Vancouver school has been approved for seismic upgrading," said COPE Trustee Allan Wong.
Wong notes that the UBC/Dunbar Study schedules University Hill Secondary and Queen Elizabeth Main Elementary for seismic upgrading, bumping them above other schools that were accorded a higher priority on the VSB list of designated schools. Wong says this is as an example of how the current isolated approach is distorting district-wide planning.