November 05, 2014 - 7:28 PM
CONSULTATION PROCESS ‘DEEPLY FLAWED’
KAMLOOPS - A group upset with the planned closure of Stuart Wood School is hoping to make it a key election issue after a lawyer allegedly found several deficiencies in the way the district handled the decision.
Bruce Thomson, the acting chair of the Downtown and West End Residents’ Association, says after the group was turned away from speaking at a school board meeting they retained a lawyer to look into the process.
Yesterday a letter was forwarded to the district outlining what they say are flaws in how the board handled the decision, from lack of a bylaw and only a single public meeting to refusing to allow members of the residents’ association to speak at a board meeting.
In the letter, lawyer Micah Rankin calls the process ‘deeply flawed’ and says there are ‘significant legal problems with the approach taken by the board.’ But it is the perceived lack of public consultation that bothers Thomson and other members of the association most.
“We had concerns, we tried to enter into discussions…. We approached the school board and at that point we basically had the door shut in our faces,” Thomson says. “The key point, the one we’re struggling with, is the lack of public input or consultation.”
The closure was one of several recommendations made in a realignment report last November. The school board began the public consultation through written and electronic submissions immediately and then in March a public information session was held at the Henry Grube Centre, on the North Shore. Supt. Karl de Bruijn notes the district had several other periods of written input and ultimately undertook an 'extensive' public consultation period similar to that used for previous school closures.
"(The letter) has a lot of inaccuracies," de Bruijn says. "We actually undertook an extensive public consultation period that started in November 2013... (and) the resolution to close (the school) is yet to be done, but it will be done. The closure is still 18 months away."
The district has agreed to bus students to help alleviate some of the concern but Thomson says bussing students to Beattie School of the Arts is not a good option.
“(Stuart Wood) is the only community school in the downtown Kamloops area. This is it. You shut this down and there is no community school,” he says. “I think most people in Kamloops would consider Beattie in Sahali.
While many people spoke out against the closure, de Bruijn says many were also in support of it. The drawing area for the school includes the Lower Sahali area and Guerin Creek as well as downtown, to the Valleyview interchange. The board decided to close the school and relocate the 193 students to the current Beattie School of the Arts campus on McGill Road in September 2016.
"No board ever likes to make the decision to close a school," de Bruijn says. "They're doing right for the children. It's a good process, people had plenty of opportunity for input. This particular association doesn't feel they did, but they didn't invent themselves until after."
As of right now the school is not officially closed. The board must pass a bylaw, but the district still has several months. The school will be turned over to the city, which owns the heritage building, and Thompson Rivers University is looking at the option of using it as a downtown campus.
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News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2014