In 25 years in local government, Armstrong Mayor Chris Pieper has never received more phone calls, visits or e-mails regarding one topic than the proposed closure of the city’s historic “Brick School,” Armstrong Elementary.
The North Okanagan-Shuswap school board voted earlier this month to consider amalgamating the current four schools into two kindergarten to Grade 7 elementary schools and one 8-12 secondary school, and closing Armstrong Elementary School for September 2016.
The school board has initiated a 60-day public consultation period in regards to the proposal.
City council had received criticism from residents for being mainly silent on the issue until Pieper released a letter on behalf of his colleague’s at Monday’s regular council meeting.
“We have a community that’s extremely passionate, extremely emotional and extremely concerned about the school,” said Pieper, who attended the Brick School himself and watched his three kids go through its hallowed halls.
“I value AES as much as anyone. It was a great school for me, great school for my kids and a great school for the community, as well as its grounds.”
Armstrong trustees Bob Fowler and Kelly Rowe, along with Falkland/Ranchero/Deep Creek trustee Debbie Evans voted against the proposal, made as the school district faces an ongoing challenge of trying to balance its budget.
The planned closure of AES would save the district almost $627,000.
“City council supports our trustees and the one from Falkland in voting not to close any of the schools in Armstrong,” said Pieper.
Council is urging the trustees to take their time in considering the closure.
It has asked the board to extend the 60-day public consultation period and defer making closure decisions during the current school year.
Salmon Arm’s Silver Creek Elementary School is also being considered for closure.
“We encourage the board to broaden their consultation to ensure all community stakeholders have had an opportunity to provide their input as requred,” said Pieper. “Better decisions are made when all options are identified.”
The school district, states the city’s letter, has informed the community that reorganizing the student population and closing AES would result in a financial saving of $392 per pupil in Armsrong.
“We encourage the board to broaden their analysis to include potential education revenue streams that can positively impact the bottom line and remove the need for a school closure,” said Pieper.
Coun. Steven Drapala is vice-principal at Armstrong’s Pleasant Valley Secondary School. He cautioned school trustees to consider all options.
“But not making a decision could have potentially very serious program implications for next year if the school board puts off a decision on a school closure this year,” said Drapala, adding that if saving money doesn’t come from a school closure, it’ll come through programming cuts.
The city has acknowledged the trustees are being asked to make a very difficult decision.
“The loss of a school in a community carries with it a significant impact,” said Pieper. “Not only to the students, but also to the community at large.”
The neighbouring Township of Spallumcheen has also sent a letter to the school board, asking them to consider all options before going ahead with a closure.
“Schools are necessary for the maintenance and growth of healthy communities,” said Mayor Janice Brown.
“Please consider all input and options, including creative ideas put forward by the community, which may enable the four Armstrong/Spallumcheen schools to be maintained in their current configuration.”