Parents at the proposed school amalgamation in Ashcroft listen.

Ashcroft parents skeptical of planned school merger

Approximately 60 parents attended a meeting held by School District 74 to discussed the proposed amalgamation of Ashcroft's two schools.

Parents and residents met in Ashcroft’s high school gym last week to get answers about the school board’s proposed amalgamation of the town’s only elementary school with the high school.

Roughly 75 people, including about 20 staff and board members, gathered around tables to  formulate questions and feedback for Gold Trail School District.

Some parents were supportive of the amalgamation, hoping that the increase in numbers under one school roof would result in more elective class options such as the reopening of the shop class. Some parents wanted to ensure that the redesign to accommodate the elementary students was well-thought out for young minds and bodies. And some parents were just dead set against it, wondering why it had to be Ashcroft Elementary and not Cache Creek, and why more money hadn’t been spent on renovations to bring AES up to standard.

Basketball and fitness coach Vicky Trill said her only concern would be the gym. “How are we going to have time for community groups?” she asked. On the other hand, she added, it would provide an “awesome opportunity” for the grade 7s and 8s to play on the same team.

Principal Colleen Minnabarriet replied to a question about the Ashcroft K-12 design available at the meeting by saying that it was very much a draft design, and that if the board decided to pursue the amalgamation of schools, many meetings would be held to design the reconfigured school.

She and other staff members stressed that the high school had plenty of room to house the high school students along with the elementary.

One parent asked why they didn’t close Cache Creek Elementary as well and move them into the high school.

“The board has indicated that they value having a school in every community,” Superintendent Teresa Down replied.

Director of Facitlities, Mitch van Aller, said the Ministry gives each school district a set amount of funding every year for capital projects, under which renovations fall. He said the lump sum divided equally among all of the District’s schools amounts to about $87,000 per year, and it is never enough to keep up with the upgrades that are needed. AES needs over $5 million to successfully bring it up to standard, but the Ministry won’t approve it.

Van Aller said they have more chance of getting extra dollars from the Ministry if they have one school full of children, rather than two schools that are operating at less than half full.

Some parents wondered if the District’s rumoured $6 million surplus could be used to fix AES. Chief Financial Officer Lynda Minnabarriet said the District had only a $2.2 million surplus as of June, and much of it did go into renovations. She said upgrades across the District would cost approximately $50 million.

“My concern as superintendent of this District is that if we continue down this path, with all the “poor” condition schools,” said Downs, “we will have to reduce student support in order to pay for the buildings.”

The board of trustees is holding a special open meeting in Ashcroft on Nov. 20 to discuss and vote on the recommendation to close AES and restructure the high school as a K-12.

If they decide to accept the recommendation, they will begin planning how the combined school will be put together.

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