Island Voices: Process matters in SD61 catchment-boundary issue

The Greater Victoria School District’s consultation process on its review of catchment boundaries is woefully inadequate and does not meet any test for appropriate public and stakeholder engagement and consultation.

The school board meeting on April 30 reviewed the proposed changes after Phase 2 of the public consultation process and left me with a lasting impression that I would like to share in the hope of increasing engagement.

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I am a South Park Family School parent, with one child in Grade 1 and another enrolled to begin kindergarten in September. This is important, as the proposed boundary-review changes that are being contemplated do not directly affect my children. However, it is for other School District 61 families that I advocate.

Insufficient time and information have been afforded to both affected families and the trustees who have to decide on the recommendations. A recommendation report should not have been provided to the public in the morning when its recommendations were to be voted on that very night.

South Park Family School is unique in the province in that it offers an educational program with structured parent participation. This unique education program offers considerable support to the higher-than-average number of students with learning designations (17 per cent) as compared with the district average (11 per cent).

Recognizing the significant and controversial decision to close the district-wide South Park Family School and open a new local-catchment elementary school, I find it appalling that the meeting’s presentation did not include a thoroughly analyzed alternative scenario of keeping South Park Family School a district-wide elementary school.

At the meeting, trustee Ann Whiteaker’s proposed amendment to keep South Park Family School district-wide sadly failed with a tied vote. This amendment to the report’s Recommendation No. 1 failed based upon unproven assumptions regarding potential — yet unassessed — impacts on the remaining school-catchment boundaries and student capacities. Such a long-term, significant decision — closing a 45-plus-year, successful educational program — requires further due diligence and careful analysis and thought. Basing such a decision on unproven assumptions is reprehensible and irresponsible.

Trustees are entrusted with an incredible amount of power and, with that, responsibility. Decisions of this far-reaching magnitude should not be rushed and should be given appropriate and careful consideration, so that there is not the slightest perception of administrative unfairness and fettered decision-making. The rushed timeline of the School District 61 review consultation and decision-making process does not give me this confidence; in fact, quite the opposite.

I offer each of the trustees a challenge: Require your staff to provide you with accurate numbers and a thorough assessment of the potential impacts of their recommendations. Require your staff to provide you with competent and realistic alternative scenarios for you to consider. Ensure that your decision on this matter is not based upon unproven assumptions and inaccurate or non-existent analyses.

Do not be rushed. This is your duty as trustees — your responsibility to your constituents who believe in you, voted for you and trust you with our children’s educational hopes and opportunities.

Gypsy Fisher is a parent of a student at South Park Family School. To learn more about South Park Family School, visit southparkpac.com/south-park-sos.

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