Vancouver school closures are looming
One key voice may be silenced when the Vancouver board of education begins deliberations on school closures starting in October.
Sharon Gregson, a two-term school trustee, is facing the prospect of having to sit on the sidelines because of a potential conflict of interest.
Gregson is the director of child and family development services for Collingwood Neighbourhood House, which rents space from the board for preschool and school-age child-care programs in three of the 11 schools that have been identified for possible closure.
These are Sir Guy Carleton and Graham D. Bruce elementary schools, and the Bruce annex. All three are in the Collingwood area, a fact that has stunned many parents in the East Vancouver neighbourhood.
“I had wanted to make sure that I wasn’t putting the process in jeopardy,” Gregson told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview about her decision to seek legal advice from the B.C. School Trustees Association.
The eight other facilities on the potential-closures list released by district staff this past summer are Admiral Seymour, Queen Alexandra, Henry Hudson, and Sir William Macdonald elementary schools, and the Champlain Heights, Charles Dickens, Kerrisdale, and McBride annexes.
“No community wants to have a school closed,” Gregson said. “It’s a tough time for education.”
The closing of schools was one of the recommendations made by B.C. comptroller general Cheryl Wenezenki-Yolland in the report she submitted to Education Minister Margaret MacDiarmid in June.
Wenezenki-Yolland’s report on the district’s finances said shuttering schools would result in “substantial” annual savings—$190,000 for an annex and $450,000 for an elementary school. It also pointed to 5,796 excess student spaces that could be eliminated, a move that would free up $5.7 million.
The same document also mentioned a “potential conflict of interest” involving an unnamed trustee, who turned out to be Gregson.
School-board chair Patti Bacchus said she expects district staff to come up with a detailed report on the 11 schools by October 4. According to her, the report will contain recommendations on which schools should be taken off the closures list.
The remaining facilities will be subject to public consultations this fall, as well as further deliberations by the board. Trustees will make a final decision before the end of the year on which schools will not open in September 2011.
“We have to look at this very openly in terms of what would the impacts be, what’s the staff advice, and what’s the public feedback,” Bacchus told the Straight in a phone interview. “The big part of the public feedback is to tell us what the numbers don’t tell us. Every school is unique, every community is unique, so we as trustees need to know beyond just what the staff numbers can tell us about the schools.”
Shantal Northgraves’s three children attend Bruce elementary school, which is a few minutes’ walk from the family’s residence.
Aside from its proximity to her home, Northgraves, who chairs the school’s parent advisory committee, has sentimental reasons for wanting her kids to stay at Bruce: she and her siblings went there when they were young.
“I know what a great school it is,” Northgraves told the Straight in a phone interview.
According to her, Collingwood residents are anxious to see if any of the three local schools will be removed from the list when district staff submit their report to the board.
“When you look at our school and Collingwood [Bruce] annex and Carleton, all three of the schools are within the same neighbourhood,” Northgraves said. “It doesn’t make any sense to any of us involved as to why they seem to have sort of chosen three schools in the same exact neighbourhood.”
As for Gregson, she said she hopes to be cleared of any potential conflict of interest and be present when the school board goes through the difficult process of closing schools.