The Cedar to Ladysmith school experiment appears poised to follow a path blazed in 1972 and ’73 when Ladysmith students had to finish their high school at Nanaimo District Secondary.
That experiment was a short one.
On Wednesday, district 68 school trustees recommended re-opening Cedar as a Grade 8-12 secondary school in time for the 2016/17 school year.
The board still needs to formally ratify the recommendation, but because the same nine people will be voting, a resurrected Cedar Secondary seems virtually a done deal. Trustees Jamie Brennan, Bill Robinson and Tania Brzovic voted against the motion.
“I think it is likely to be approved,” school board chairman Steve Rae said. “The board has decided that it’s the best thing for the community to have the school open.”
“For myself, having gone through this process, one of the biggest themes I came across for myself is … it seems like the southeast part of the School District 68 has been disadvantaged by the school closure,” trustee Natasha Bob said. “I’m also really concerned about centralization of schools in our school district and how that will affect class sizes in the future.”
The previous school board voted to close Cedar effective last September as part of its 10-year facilities plan, despite the fact it was both full and the district’s newest high school. Its students were sent to Ladysmith and John Barsby.
Concern about that decision contributed to a heavy turnover in trustees in November’s school board election. The new board started a consultation process called Your Voice in order to review the district’s direction. As part of that process, 53 percent of 1,331 responders supported re-opening the high school in Cedar.
Re-opening obviously comes with ramifications for the entire district, particularly at Ladysmith Secondary, where Cedar arrivals have helped pack formerly empty hallways.
Short-term, Rae suspects some of those students will remain at Ladysmith either to finish graduation, or because they’ve found a good fit. But long-term, adjustments will have to be made in order for Ladysmith to maximize its potential.
“Ladysmith used have a shop. Maybe we need to re-open it. Maybe we need to move some French immersion to Ladysmith. We are not about abandoning Ladysmith, Cedar or John Barsby,” he said.
“The reason we dealt with Cedar first was because we were getting set to spend money in Cedar (to convert it to an elementary school).”
Meanwhile, a decision to remove Grade 7s from Ladysmith next fall remains in place.
“We heard loud and clear that Ladysmith didn’t want that and that’s why we changed it,” Rae said.
Still, given funding realities and fading district enrollment, something has to go. The most likely prospect is Woodlands Secondary in Nanaimo.
“We have to go through consultation, but yes, there will be a high school closed,” Rae said. “We have empty classrooms.”
He said the board will continue to pursue a new high school for Nanaimo — a goal many said led to the original Cedar closure — but for him that should not be the district’s highest priority.
“The 10-year plan is flawed,” he said. “Several factors have changed in the plan. To stay is irresponsible.”
Bus service coming for Cedar’s last year?
One of biggest bones of contention for Cedar parents after the school’s closure was the district’s refusal to supply busing to Ladysmith.
Next year that may not be an issue.
Trustees have recommended providing bus service for one year, assuming the re-opening of Cedar the following year.
Staff presented two options to the board where “retired” school buses could be put into operation this September in order to provide service from Cedar to Ladysmith.
Director of planning and operations Pete Sabo came up with two scenarios: service to LSS for 165 students (the current number of Cedar students at LSS) or service for 265 students (a scenario where half the Cedar kids currently at Barsby switch to Ladysmith because of available busing).
The smaller service is is estimated to cost $110,000, the larger $211,000.
District staff said in a previous report that the cost of establishing a new and permanent bus route between Ladysmith and Cedar for the students would be expensive, costing $980,000 to purchase the buses and an annual operating cost of $256,000.
The recommendation still has to be ratified by the board. Like the decision on re-opening Cedar, the trustees voting will be the same as the ones who approved the recommendation.
— with files from Black Press