School board receives input from south-end residents

The school district held its third and final Your Voice 2015 public round table discussion March 5

  • Mar. 9, 2015 1:00 p.m.

Nanaimo-Ladysmith School District staff members and trustees came to Ladysmith last week to hear about the educational priorities of people living in the south end of the district.

The school district held its third and final Your Voice 2015 public round table discussion March 5 at Ladysmith Secondary School. The meetings were a chance for the public to tell the school board what they think about the budget, how to spend limited resources and what plans should be made for the facilities where students learn.

“We’re trying to tackle two issues — the budget and the facilities plan,” school board chairman Steve Rae. said at the meeting. “Any time a plan goes into place, we need to re-evaluate the plan, so that’s what we’re doing. We’re three years into a plan, and we’re tasked with spending taxpayers’ dollars, so we need to make sure we are doing the most thorough analysis possible to make sure we spend taxpayers’ dollars properly, so that’s what this is about. It’s an opportunity for people to have their voice and speak to issues that concern them and to give us feedback so that when we make our decisions, those decisions are informed. And that is what the goal is with this whole process.”

In June 2013, the board passed the 10-year Enhanced Facilities for Learning Plan, and as the current board conducts a review of the plan, it is asking for the public’s input into where it should go from here.

“The plan was made three years ago — things change,” said Rae. “When the plan was made, there were certain things in place, and those things aren’t in place anymore, so now we have to re-adjust. It would be irresponsible of us not to do that.”

At last week’s meeting, participants were asked if they have been impacted by the Enhanced Facilities for Learning Plan and what the negative or positive impacts have been, as well as what advice they could provide that might help make any future transitions easier for families. They were also asked what other options or solutions the board should be considering to keep the schools open.

Participants were broken into tables of nine or so, and a facilitator from each table reported what they had discussed.

Some of the recommendations or possible solutions coming out of the discussions at the Ladysmith meeting included re-opening Cedar Community Secondary School; focusing on the school district as a whole and not having all the changes in one area; making a real effort to secure a building and property for a new school before closing a school; considering the impact on students first, followed by the impact on the community; generating income by selling or renting empty school properties; focusing on increasing the levels of support for students; being more transparent with the process of making changes; and cutting top-heavy management.

This meeting was the final of three Your Voice public round table discussions hosted by the school board. Public meetings were also held in February at Dover Bay Secondary School and John  Barsby Community Secondary, and the school board held a round table discussion with its stakeholders as well.

“It’s been interesting,” said Rae. “The public is engaged and intelligent. It’s refreshing to see people with great ideas and great passion for what they believe in, and they share their thoughts with us. It will help us make a better decision at the end of the day about how we spend our money and how we go forward with our facilities plan.”

Rae says he hasn’t heard anything particularly surprising in these meetings.

“People are passionate about their positions, and that’s the difference, I think, between being a trustee and being a parent,” he said. “I’m both, but when you’re a parent, you advocate for what’s best for you and your family; what we’re tasked with is trying to do what’s best for 15,000 kids. So when we speak to our parents and partners, they’re advocating for what they believe is best for their family, which, God bless them, is what they should be doing. But we need to take that information and try to do what’s best for the whole district. So that’s what we’re trying to figure out.”

For more information about the Your Voice 2015 engagement process or to fill out the online survey, visit www.sd68.bc.ca. Anyone who is interested can also pick up a booklet at any school in the district.

Parents can also register to make a 10-minute presentation to the board Thursday, March 19 at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre in Nanaimo by e-mailing Kelsey.toye@sd68.bc.ca.

Anyone interested in providing e-mail feedback can also send their input to yourvoice@sd68.bc.ca.

“After that, we’ll gather all the information, and we will try to make the best decision for the whole district — that’s our goal is to do what’s best for the whole district and spend taxpayers’ money the best way possible,” said Rae. “We have difficult decisions going forward, and we can’t do it without input from our partners.”