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Richmond, B.C. parents ‘cautiously optimistic’ board will keep schools open

The unexpected move by the Richmond school board has parents there preparing to declare victory after months of anguished protests aimed at preventing the closing of three elementary schools.

Jonathan Hayward/THE CANADIAN PRESS

A second large school district will decide Tuesday whether to end the process to close schools that has had its community in an uproar, days after the Vancouver board voted to suspend its public consultation on school closings.

The unexpected move by the Richmond school board has parents there preparing to declare victory after months of anguished protests aimed at preventing the closing of three elementary schools.

"It's been a huge upheaval for every school," said Kelly Greene, a parent with the group Richmond Schools Stand United.

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She said parents, some of whom were celebrating early on Twitter on Friday afternoon, are "cautiously optimistic" that the board will vote to stop the process.

The board originally had set Oct. 17 as the date when it would vote on whether to close three schools.

Board chair Debbie Tablotney said trustees have had a lot of pressure from parents and the community.

That pressure increased significantly after the Education Minister announced Sept. 21 that the province would no longer require school districts to prove that 95 per cent of their school seats were filled in order to qualify for money to complete earthquake-proofing on buildings.

"That really called into question whether we needed to go through with this," Ms. Tablotney said.

Richmond's elementary schools currently operate at 85-per-cent capacity.

The district was only going to save $250,000 a year for each school it closed, so the money wasn't the issue as much as the threat of losing funding for earthquake retrofits.

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The Richmond board's decision is just one more roller-coaster bump in what has been a tumultuous year for B.C. school districts.

Many school districts were faced with having to make severe budget cuts for the 2016-17 school term and were protesting vocally.

As discontent grew, Premier Christy Clark started making a series of ad-hoc announcements about new chunks of money available to schools, sometimes to prevent them from closing, sometimes to provide more resources for school busing, sometimes to accelerate school construction in districts with booming populations.

Vancouver and Richmond, besides facing budget shortfalls, were the two districts hardest hit by the ministry's rule saying that earthquake-retrofit or reconstruction money wasn't available unless districts got to 95-per-cent capacity.

Both districts have been going through emotional school-closing processes that had parents and students pleading to save their schools. Richmond originally looked at closing as many as 16 schools.

Vancouver's process has been so difficult that it has provoked an unprecedented upheaval among district administrators. Four senior managers went on medical leave abruptly two weeks ago, as trustees wrestled with whether to go ahead with closings.

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A letter written by the head of the superintendents' association to the deputy education minister claimed that the administrators' positions were untenable, because trustees were micromanaging, bullying and harassing as decisions were being made about how to handle the issue.

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About the Author
Urban affairs contributor

Frances Bula has written about urban issues and city politics in B.C.’s Vancouver region, covering everything from Downtown Eastside drug addiction to billion-dollar development projects, since 1994. More

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