Tuesday June 9, 2020 ~ LANGFORD & WEST SHORE
by Mary Brooke ~ West Shore Voice News
It is still up for a discussion at the board level, but tonight at the Resource Committee of Sooke School District 62 (SD62) there was a new trend of discussion that shows a significant shift in approach to facility expansion in the district.
SD62 provides public education to families in a broad geographical area with school buildings in three growing municipalities of Langford, Colwood and Sooke (with students also in a broader geographical area including Metchosin, Highlands, East Sooke, beyond Sooke to Port Renfrew, and parts of View Royal).
For years there has appeared to be an attempt at balance in most things between the two zones of SD62 — Belmont Zone (covering Langford and Colwood schools) and Milne’s Landing Zone (schools in Sooke). But tonight in discussion of the capital plan there was a noticeable shift by trustees to shift resources for new schools toward the Belmont Zone.
In particular by Board Chair Ravi Parmar (sitting on the Resource Committee as a non-voting member, ex-officio) there was talk of a campaign, and selling the new direction with a comprehensive communications plan. Other trustees on the committee, at tonight’s livestreamed meeting: Bob Beckett (committee chair), Allison Watson, and Wendy Hobbs.
Sooke might fall behind:
Concerns were expressed about whether or not sewer service will be extended past the Sooke River Bridge. If sewer expansion happens, population growth would increase on the east side of the river (mostly in the Sunriver area). A school at Sunriver has been under discussion since around 2007, but there has never been the increased student population in Sooke to warrant investment in a new school.
Funding for new schools comes from the BC government through the Ministry of Education, together with funds accumulated by SD62 through School Site Acquisition Charges (SSACs), i.e. property taxes.
If no one speaks up at this juncture, it sounds like the board — with the support of senior administration — is gearing up to approach the Ministry of Education with a plan that focusses on Langford and Colwood.
Even Trustee Watson — long time of Sooke, and elected to represent the Milne’s Landing Zone — expressed worry about the Ministry wanting to support funds for a new school in Sooke given the ‘one-road-in, one-road-out’ community issue, saying there still isn’t talk of a new road (which is odd, as she would probably be aware that the Ministry of Transportation has made a considerable investment in planning for expansion of Highway 14 with a new detour, with construction set to begin this year, and aiming for 2022 completion).
Enrollment growth projected to continue through 2034:
Trustees Parmar and Beckett seemed keen about land acquisition and really pushing for new schools instead of seismic upgrades. Land development and new school builds are big business in Langford.
Despite that the capital planning presentation at first said that over-building is something to avoid, Parmar tonight pitched to the committee that he will be promoting the importance of supporting further school construction to municipal leaders during the upcoming Vision WestShore virtual discussion on June 11, though it’s unlikely any awareness of that needs to be raised among mayors and councillors of Langford and Colwood who themselves are likely pushing for the same thing.
Two new schools — elementary and middle – in Westhills (aka West Langford) are set for a construction start this fall after steep land has been levelled and prepared, toward an opening in Fall 2022. By 2024 the projection is that the two largest highschools (Belmont in Langford and Royal Bay in Colwood) will again be past capacity, despite Royal Bay expanding to 1,200 seats this fall.
Impact of the pandemic:
Other aspects of discussion at the Resource Committee this evening included the budget impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic as presented by Secretary-Treasurer Harold Cull. That included things like reduced revenue because of fewer international students (who pay tuition), perhaps having to hire more custodial staff (for cleaning to COVID-19 standards), retraining of staff (several bus drivers may be reassigned to other positions, as there are now just 13 active routes compared to 28 due to fewer students attending in classrooms), and more physical fixtures required in schools (e.g. plexiglass or handwashing stations).
SD62 Superintendent Scott Stinson said that some training and support to staff would need to be funded, as some staff are redeployed to help out in new or different areas. Stinson said an emergency response team would be doing as much planning as possible before the end of June to achieve “as much certainty as possible” for back-to-school in September 2020, for “Phase 3 or Phase 2” of the pandemic, “and start to modify accordingly”.
For now, the budget for 2020-21 is ‘status quo’ (i.e. no new areas of expenditure). There is the expectation that reserves will be drawn upon to help with any unexpected or additional expenditures due to pandemic-related management. There will be more expenditure on teacher salaries (due to enrolment growth — as many as 411 new students expected in Fall 2020).
About $100,000 that was earlier this year taken out of the curriculum budget has been put back in, likely to cover the additional costs of developing and delivering remote learning in addition to in-class learning, as the pandemic continues. To achieve that in the budget, the position of a new office/purchasing manager will be delayed.
====== About the writer:
West Shore Voice News editor Mary Brooke has been following SD62 politics at the board level since 2014. As a footnote to tonight’s meeting, one wonders why Trustee Bob Beckett wondered if Q&A contributions (from media) needed to be answered, and whether the questions were seen by others online. Transparency is often stated as a goal by SD62, so in that context Trustee Beckett’s query seemed oddly out of synch.
===== Other recent articles about SD62:
A good back-to-class day in June during the pandemic (June 1, 2020)
Dr Henry is excited about ‘back to school’ in June (May 30, 2020)