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EDITORIAL: Time to think outside the straightjacket

I was in Salmo last Friday evening for my son's basketball game. It was my first visit to that community's new $6.7M high school. Salmo Secondary is beautiful facility--a miniature version of the new JL Crowe.

Here's a fact worth noting: that school's graduating class, according to the smiling photos on the hall walls, averages around 25 students. The school closure threat level faced by this community and its brand new 200 student school? Zero. Why? As we prepare for this Thursday's Planning for the Future meeting at RSS, we'd do well to consider the reasons.

Salmo is 39 kilometres away from the Nelson Board office, which means that a special funding formula kicks in designed to protect 'remote' schools. As it stands right now, the future of our community rests upon such arbitrary provincial policies.

As The Castlegar Source's Kyra Hoggan noted a few days ago in an eloquent Op/Ed piece, these meetings allow the public to offer input to the School Board, a body that is merely a "systemically-guaranteed patsy" for the provincial government. The government sets the funding formula and it is the thankless task of the Board to try their best to operate an education system that is now chronically underfunded.

As it stands, we're in an impossible spot. If Rosslanders try to engage this process and offer up their best suggestions as to how to save their own schools, they will be asking the Board to protect their community and their children's educations at the expense of families in Trail and Castlegar.

I can only speak for myself, but I don't want to save RSS this way. It wouldn't be much of a victory party--to clink glasses in celebration while, almost within earshot, the doors of Webster lock for good.

It's time to think outside the straightjacket. Let's not just try to save RSS--let's try to save education in the West Kootenay.

Let's use this meeting as an opportunity to demand real action on the real issue: chronic underfunding. Here are a couple of suggestions:

  • Ask the Board to consider refusing to balance its books, or, alternately, to resign en masse. Their job is to serve the children of this district, not Gordon Campbell's spending priorities.
  • Ask our local city government to consider tax revolt. Our property taxes fund our schools. We should be allowed to spend them as we wish. And let's not just ask the City of Rossland. Let's also ask Trail, Warfield and Castlegar to join in.

If that sounds too 'radical', consider this: there's no reason to believe that, whether RSS is saved or not, this is the end to the cuts. RSS might be preserved for two or three years, then face closure again. Alternately, the Board might close RSS and ship our kids to Crowe. Then, five years later, it might not be surprising to find Trail AND Rossland kids being shipped to Castelgar, since it's 'only' a half hour further away. And why stop there? Nelson's only an hour further down the highway. Does anybody doubt that it's possible the government might once again force district amalgamation, as it did ten years ago with the Trail and Castlegar districts?

A line needs to be drawn. Education decision making power should rest in the community, not in Victoria. I've lived in Rossland for 13 years and for 13 years RSS has been under threat. How can we build our community under such circumstances?

Right now, we're playing a mug's game. It's time to get serious. Rather than a fight over scraps, Thursday's meeting should be a time to suggest civil disobedience and to unify the cities that make up this district against the real 'enemy'--the provincial government and its anti-rural, anti-education policies.

Meetings in Trail and Castlegar each gathered crowds of over 300 people. Rossland needs to show it cares about its schools. To date, there have been few submissions from the Golden City to the Board, and Jean Borsa might be getting the picture that we don't care, or that we're sitting back and smugly thinking the future is secure. It's not and it won't be until something major changes.

Thursday, January 14. 7:00PM at the RSS gym.