Gold Trail kicked off their Community Conversations last week in Ashcroft, ending Thursday night, April 11, in Cache Creek.
The Ashcroft meeting on Apr. 2 was well attended by about 50 members of the public, and about half as many Gold Trail staff members and employees.
For an hour, staff explained the District’s fiances, the challenges they faced with the special requirements for local children, declining enrolment and the District’s aging school facilities.
After the presentations, the public were asked four questions. The first was “What was new information for you?”
The special requirements for the children and the age of the schools surprised many people there.
Superintendent Teresa Downs explained how over 50 per cent of kindergarten students in the District were classed as “vulnerable” in at least one of five areas of health and social development. The provincial average, she said, was 10 per cent.
Over the past four years, the District has brought in Early Assessment and Intervention and Speech Language Assistance. Every kindergarten student is tested for their basic readiness to begin school, and extra work is often needed to bring them up to kindergarten level.
Declining enrolment is expected to continue for several more years, she said, and even when it levels out, they are not expecting to see numbers increasing again.
The funding protection that used to buffer the budget of the District with the fastest declining enrolment in BC is being reduced by 1.5 per cent annually, making for a $307,000 reduction in Gold Trail’s $21.5 million budget, said Lynda Minnabarriet, director of finance.
Mitch Van Aller, director of facilities, talked about the results of a 2012 Facility Condition Assessment conducted by the province. Every school in the District received a Poor rating except for Gold Bridge which got an average rating, and AES and LES. The two oldest schools in the District, Ashcroft Elementary and Lytton Elementary were given the lowest rating – Very Poor.
School capacity was measured and Lillooet ranked the highest. AES came out at 41 per cent usage; Cache Creek Elementary, Lytton Elementary and David Stoddart K-12 (Clinton) are around 31 per cent. Ashcroft Secondary and Kumsheen Secondary are hovering around 25 per cent.
Everyone present were gathered into several groups and asked four questions:
1. What was new information for you?
2. What would you like to learn more about and why?
3. What is important to you and why?
4. What would you like to see for the future of education?
Many were surprised at how old the buildings were, AES and LES being built in 1950.
Others were shocked to hear that so many kindergarten students needed help just to meet the basic entry requirements of things like speech and socialization for school.
It didn’t long for the discussion to turn to school closures.
“i didn’t quite understand what we were supposed to take away from the presentation,” said one person.
“I felt like you’re preparing us for closure,” said another.
“I thought we were going to get more information about what was actually being considered,” said one woman. “If there was no school here, I wouldn’t have moved to Ashcroft. My child hs a hard time with change.”
“We chose Ashcroft because of location,” said another. “We wouldn’t be happy sending our children to Cache Creek.”
“We should be talking about potential options,” said David Eaglestone. “It’s not a consultation if we don’t know what the board is considering.”
Vicky Trill said she felt that a small town eduction is one of the best things to give a child, “even if we’re lacking a few courses.” Let’s keep our kids here, she said, even if it’s in Cache Creek.
“It’s all about education,” said trustee Nancy Rempel, “whether it’s in this building (Ashcroft Secondary) or not.”
She said the District was criticized after its last consultations because people felt they weren’t given enough information. “People thought we were hiding something,” she said.
Some of the discussion touched on how to increase the numbers of students by reaching out to home schoolers and convincing them to come back into the system.
The board has said that the information from the Community Conversations will be used to prepare a 10-year facility plan as mandated by the province.