Articles written for various community newspapers in the Lower Mainland, B.C. and special interest print and online magazines

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Plymouth Elementary School gets ready to shut doors

The provincial government's budgetary grants released March 15 indicates the North Vancouver School District will close Plymouth Elementary School in what has been a mulitple choice question between four area schools for several years.

The ministry of education reinstated 50 per cent of the annual facilities grant – $1.5-million for next year and the remaining 50 the following year - that it previously cancelled.

But the money is not enough to make up the $9 million needed for upcoming projects, according to Irene Young, secretary-treasurer for the district which means impending school closures are on the horizon.

The main reason Plymouth is slated for closure is that the cost per student at Plymouth is $1,000 more than at other schools in the district, she said.

“Plymouth's costs are on the high side because it is small and underutilized,” said Young.

But John Clark, a representative of the working committee appointed by the parent advisory committee to examine school closure options, said despite costs per student being higher, closing Plymouth doesn't make financial sense.

“We’re arguing that if you close Plymouth you generate the least amount of savings than any of the other three schools,” said Clark.

Closing Seymour Heights saves an additional $60,000 per year, he said.

Clark said closing Plymouth has more to do with the district's plans to get the ministry's approval to built a new school for the purpose of consolidating the four schools in the area.

According to both Young and Clark, the province won't accept the plan to build a new facility unless all the local schools are filled to capacity and Plymouth is on the chopping block because it has fewer students enrolled.

“Victoria will not provide the funding for the new school. They will tell the district to soak up the unused capacity and both Seymour Heights and Plymouth are underutilized,” Clark said.

According to Young, amalgamating four existing schools into two new schools will save over $1.1-million annually in operating costs. She also said building two new schools costs the same as restoring four other schools – $22.9-million to build at Lynnmour and Seymour Heights locations compared with $22.4-million to upgrade.

Building upgrades to Plymouth have been quoted at $3-million where improvements to the other schools are $6-million.

But Young said the ministry would not consider renovating one school over another.

It could be several years until the province approves the plan to build replacement schools and there are no guarantees from the funding will go through even if the schools are closed, Clark said.

However, the district has still decided to go ahead with closures despite the uncertainty of whether replacement schools will be built.

The criteria for closures is based on school population, available space at the school, operating costs, physical state of the building, diversity of educational programs and community impact.

Clark hopes that the district will “suddenly open their eyes and say, 'we selected the wrong school.' On every single criteria, the economics or whatever, Plymouth is not the school to close.”

Clark said it has been difficult to understand why Plymouth is targeted when the reports show that closing other schools would be a better option.

He said his requests to look at the budget document that breaks down the $10-million shortfall has not be granted by the district.

“We’re trying to access information that will be useful to us or help us assess the merits of closing 0 or 1 school. We’re finding it difficult to get information and we’re also finding that the process isn’t transparent.”

The Plymouth working committee report submitted to the district March 18 and displayed on their website outlines several reasons in the defense of keeping the school open.

The report stresses the benefits of a smaller community school in educational development, the disruption of multiple moves from one facility to another and the impacts on the environment if students are driven to school.

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