A group of Midway residents are redoubling their efforts to keep the village’s elementary school open.
Speaking on behalf of 15 people who met at the village’s community hall Wednesday, Feb. 2, business owner and former mayor Doug McMynn said over 600 people had signed their petition calling on the Boundary Board of Education not to shut down Midway Elementary School (MES).
McMynn said the signatures came from villagers and former villagers now living across the Boundary and beyond.
“We’ve got people from Christina Lake and Grand Forks to Nakusp, Kelowna, Kamloops and Quesnel. Their position is ‘Don’t close the school!’”
Former MES principal Walt Osellame said he was invited to attend the community hall meeting because he’d been at the helm when it faced a possible closure in 2001. “I’m vehemently opposed to closing MES right now,” he told The Gazette Thursday.
The Boundary’s school board voted last December to engage with affected villagers and staff before potentially shuttering Midway Elementary School (MES), which is run by School District 51 (SD 51). Midway students would attend Greenwood Elementary School (GES) in the event MES were to be closed.
The board triggered the process after SD 51’s Superintendent Anna Lautard addressed staffing issues and safety concerns at MES and nearby GES. The schools have to share staff, including a principal, making it harder for SD 51 to recruit and keep qualified teachers, Lautard told the board.
In particular, three candidates showed interest in or accepted teaching jobs split between MES and GES, but then took offers by other school districts where they wouldn’t have to commute between schools. Meanwhile, safety concerns had arisen when the principal at MES and GES had to drive to and from the schools while supervision staff weren’t at either or both, Lautard said.
Nearly three-quarters of the K-3 students at MES live in Greenwood, according to an information package put together by SD 51. Just over three-quarters of GES students in Grades 4-7 also live in Greenwood, Lautard told The Gazette Thursday.
Clarifying SD 51’s earlier statement that MES was rated in “very poor” condition on the Ministry of Education’s Facility Condition Index (FCI), Lautard said an engineering firm put the cost of replacing MES’s roof at $400,000.
MES contains asbestos at levels that can be “managed in place or removed prior to renovation,” whereas GES isn’t known to contain the carcinogenic insulation material at all.
Osellame said the district had some valid concerns, but that none justified closing MES.
More than anything else, he stressed the need for calm, level-headed dialogue between parents, the school district and the board.
“I think the concern that many people in Midway are expressing right now is that the board seems to be rushing through this.”
Schools tend not be rebuilt in communities where they’ve been closed, he said, pointing out that SD 51 doesn’t have a concrete plan about what to do with MES in the event it were shut down.
“To make a decision on this magnitude, I would hope that the board has a diagnostic assessment tool that says, ‘Hey, if we do this, it’s going to make the quality of education better.’”
So, far Osellame said he hadn’t seen evidence to indicate that kids’ educations would improve if SD 51 were to amalgamate MES and GES. When MES faced closure in 2001 due to spending cuts by the then Liberal government, Osellame said Boundary stakeholders came together and arrived at the district’s four-day school week.
It was a hard decision, given that custodial and other non-teaching staff lost 20 per cent of their income, but Osellame said MES was able to hold the line.
Midway Mayor Martin Fromme said Thursday he and village council will address the potential closure at their next regular meeting on Monday, Feb. 7. Councillors attended SD 51’s informational presentation via Zoom on Jan. 24, he said, adding that council may ask the district for further information.
Affected residents in Midway and Greenwood have until Feb. 17 to submit written responses to SD 51. The district has called for solutions, but Lautard didn’t say if the district would consider signed petitions.
SD 51 will host the board at another public meeting in Midway on Feb. 24. Board trustees will vote on whether or not to close MES at their regular meeting on March 15.
Trustee Mark Danyluck, who lives in Midway, was not available for comment when The Gazette published this story online Thursday afternoon.