Special Board Meeting March 27/14: Closing My School Is Like a Thorn Flew Into My Heart

The title quote is from a Sundance student’s  speech to the Board.

The entire meeting was video recorded by the Sundance parent group.

The Budget Advisory Committee – Alpha, Ferris, Horsman and Orcherton – was never called to meet this year, although Trustee Alpha asked for that in the fall of 2013. Reportedly, Alpha was told by the Chair that it would not  be necessary.

The final  vote went to a poll vote because all Trustees did not approve reading of all 3 Bylaw motions at one meeting . According to SD61  Bylaw 9011, Poll Votes, there are only three reasons that a poll vote can be called:
Circumstances Under Which Poll Votes May Be Called:
Poll Votes shall only be called:
(a) to deal with emergencies; [clearly, this isn’t one of the kind contemplated]
(b) where delay would injure the interests of the Board; [clearly, it wouldn’t]
(c) regarding matters which do not justify a special meeting. [The final vote to close a school doesn’t justify a special meeting, according to the Chair].

Any three trustees can call a special meeting, according to Bylaw 9360, General Meeting of the Board:
“The Chair, the Secretary-Treasurer or any three trustees, may call a special general meeting of the Board, in addition to the regularly scheduled
meetings of the Board, upon not less than forty-eight hours’ notice in
writing to all trustees. ” I did that almost immediately after the meeting below, and was supported by Alpha, Loring-Kuhanga and Nohr. The chair refused, the rationale being “It’s not our practice”. On at least two other occasions since January 2012  the group of four above called for a meeting using this Bylaw, and were denied by the Chair, and told “Trustees are too busy”, and “Quorum woudl not be achieved”. Apparently abiding by  Bylaws is optional.

Bylaw 9110 Organization states:
Duties and Authority of the Chair
“The Chair shall be expected to act, as far as possible, in the role of the
“Speaker of the House” with objectivity and fairness to all sides of the
debate. The chair shall avoid using the position to (unduly) influence the outcome of a debate by withholding pertinent information or any other means. The authority of the chair does not exceed that of any individual trustee.”

Legislation exists prohibiting closure of a school within a specified distance of another closed school. Richmond School is on record as a “closed school” ( {though it is used for housing schools that are temporarily “evicted” due to seismic upgrades]. A Sundance parent reports that Sundance falls within the prohibited closure kilometre specification circumference adjacent to the former Richmond Elementary School.

Many parents I spoke with had no problem with re-establishing Sundance as a small neighbourhood school, which would fill the building. Redrawing the catchment areas for a few schools seems preferable to closing a school.

Agenda jpeg goes here, only the agenda appears not to be on the SD61 website, as are other Board meeting agendas.

A. Commencement of Meeting: Chair Orcherton
A.1 Approval of Agenda: Approved as amended:

  • Loring-Kuhanga: Motion to add at C (a) “Recommended motions”:That the Board approve the closing of Sundance School and move the program to Lakehill.
  • Chair: That’s an amendment – out of order as a motion.
  • McNally: Motion to add to the agenda: Add at C.(a):That the Board close Sundance School as of July 1. This is a motion Sundance parents have asked to be put on the agenda.
  • Chair asks for ruling of the Board. [Accepted]

B. Community Presentations:

Introduction: John Balogh, parent:(synopsis)

“This is a manufactured crisis. Province refuses to fund public education while funding private schools. Be clear about what you are doing and say what is really happening. The program will not survive if moved. Maybe you will get five families who are willing to move. We appreciate the motion to close the school as it clarifies the issue.”

Sundance Students speak to closure of their school in video [available on Youtube].  

Speakers previously signed up (5 minutes each)

a) Pat Carrico : Read letter from Nick Blasko (co-founder of Rifflandia, who could not be at the meeting as he is at the Juno Awards) praising the program and recalling his own education at Sundance as being critical in the formation of the person he is today. 

b) Ruth Nicholl: Lives in South Jubilee neighbourhood, the smallest neighbourhood in Victoria, and Sundance is the smallest school. School is a vital part of the neighbourhood. Looking t the SD61 Mission statement: The Greater Victoria School District is committed to each student’s success in learning within a responsive and safe environment.

c) Angela Wignall: Victoia is a growing city. Enrolment is rising.

d) Mary Rose [did not appear]

e ) Benjamin Alto-Bond,  Sundance alumnus: Sundance vital in who he is today.

f) Marianne Alto, Victoria City Councillor and former Sundance parent: The school gave an exceptional grounding in values and principles of coexistence, caring and cooperation. School boards have very little power but it is time to say to the Provincial Government, “No”.

g) speakers who signed up at the meeting:

  • Maggie Bird, special education teacher and parent: Against closure
  • Lucy, Sundance student: Read letter from 15 students praising Sundance’s bully-free culture
  • Jasper, Sundance student: This year came out as trans boy; not sure would get the same support and acceptance in other school cultures; feel at ease in this one.
  • Nell Hodges: Against closure
  • John Balogh, Sundance parent, experiential re “difference” [ speaker with About Face http://www.aboutface.ca/ ] : Proud of my two kids. “Our differences are what we have in common.” Went through school as a child with a difference.Was not easy. If you think our school years have fundamentally changed in  regard to difficulties for children with differences,, talk to the kids with differences.
  • Rachel, Sundance parent: Against closure
  • Thalia, Sundance student: Hearing abut my school closing stabbed my heart like a flying thorn”. [Thalia had much more to say.]
  • Simeon, Sundance student: My school is like a second home.
  • Ruth McIntosh, parent: Sundance is not a “program”, it’s a school.
  • Chris Meglic, parent: Have tried to find a good fit for child in other schools with not good success. Other school cultures see the challenge; Sundance sees the gift.
  • Nicole Baker, Sundance parent: Was gifted learner myself; regular school system didn’t work for me. Sundance works for students who find the mainstream not working for them.
  • Jordan Byrne: Experienced education system in France, Ontario and now BC. Choice is progressive. Schools should be the heart of the community.
  • Sean Hurdle: If closing a school is on the cost saving agenda, the system is flawed. Timeline too short to research alternatives.
  • Debra Swain, Sundanese teacher 7 years, special education teacher 22 years: Third school taught at that has been closed. Against closure.
  • Allison: Against closure
  • Kira Antonik, Sundance parent: Parent petition against closing Sundance has 628 signatures as of tonight.
  • Allison: Against closure
  • Sam: Against closure
  • Terry, grandparent of Sundance student: Against closure
  • Rachel, Sundance parent: Against closure. The school is a true community. the support is exceptional. Some schools are still using seclusion for children with special needs. 200 replies to an Inclusion BC Survey. 
  • Ryan: Against closure
  • Joanne, out of school care provider: Closing the school would be a business decision and does not align with the District mission statement.
  • Peter, political economist / sociologist: Might be thinking about heartfelt stories but this is fundamentally about value.

John Balogh [to close; John has led the consultation meetings at Sundance and has been key in organizing Sundance presentations to the Board]:

“Think, instead of what’s compelling about keeping the school open, what is compelling about closing the school? Consider your values as publicly elected officials responsible for educating our kids, and work with us to save your vision of education.”

C. Proposed Sundance Elementary School Facility Closure and Program Relocation Debate

a) Recommended Motions and Bylaw:

i) McNally: That the Board close Sundance School as of July 1, 2014. / Defeated. For: Ferris, Leonard    Against: Alpha, Horsman, Loring-Kuhanga, McEvoy, McNally, Nohr, Orcherton

Rationale (McNally):

Students, I need to let you know that I don’t want to close your school. I made this motion because parents asked for a motion that stated what is really happening.

To let the students who think we didn’t try to get more money, we did try – we wrote lots of letters to the Ministry of Education asking for more money, but we didn’t get it. What we did diDn’t work, and I’m sorry. We also asked [via BCSTA]  for the f Provincial Government to stop funding private schools with public money and put that money back into public schools.

I’ve I asked my colleagues more than once to support sending the Provincial Government a budget that states the money we need and what we can do with that, not a budget that complies with the money we’re given. If we did that we would be fired as the Cowichan Board was. I’ve been told by a colleague to resign from this Board if I don’t want to approve a compliance budget. Obviously I haven’t resigned. I’d rather stay and fight the Provincial agenda. My motion has always failed.

I am not a fan of “programs of choice” but Sundance is here and is bringing great value to the District and to families. My teaching career included 22 years as a special education teacher in SD61 and ten years before that as a CUPE education assistant. I have some understanding of what Sundance is doing and would like to see small neighbourhood schools for all children.

Once a relative and I were involved in a major discussion about a major issue in our lives. This person  stopped at a very heated point and said “This is not our fault”. His perception was right – it was a legacy from elsewhere. This decision is like that. An $8 million structural deficit n this District is the legacy of a Provincial Government that has systematically underfunded public education and has offloaded costs to school districts for years. No matter what we do to find savings at this point it could be painful, but some choices are less painful than others. I have ideas for alternatives but can’t put them on this agenda – a “Special Meeting” is convened to deal with only one issue. I will bring them to the next meeting, Education Policy. The School Act says we have till June 30 to submit a budget There is time to consider other options.

  • Alpha: Seconded this motion but won’t support it. It expresses the truth of what’s really on the table. This will be another school community closed and we can thank the BC Liberals for that. We must provide appropriate alternative environments for everychild who needs them.
  • Loring-Kuhanga: Thinking of the phrase that can apply to children with challenges, we want to have them investigated, not medicated. Remembering former Trustee John Young, who said to me when I was running for election to this Board, “Promise you won’t forget the most vulnerable students when you’re at the Board table”.I promised.
  • Ferris: The initial motion was to approve relocation. Would prefer to support that motion but if this is the motion that parents want, will support this one. Our values are rooted in the SD61 mission statement. Part of the attachment to the is school is its smallness. Every parent has that attachment to a school. Many of our schools are small . Have confidence in our schools and educators to continue to improve and meet the needs of students. Two significant events led to this motion: Throwback to 1997 when Sundance faced closure. There was a funding change from the government – a change to per pupil funding, not on operations. It’s impossible to replicate a school of 50 students. Downloaded costs have increased the structural deficit. the structural deficit won’t go away with cuts to toilet paper and supplies. Why we’re looking at structural changes. Impossible to sustain every small school – have needs n every school. Have to think of the 18,000 or so other students in the District. We could find a place to put more money in every school. I intend to support the motion. Your children can be successful elsewhere.
  • Nohr: Sundance is an exceptional school. Is what I would hope for for every school, but is not happening because of underfunding. Instead of meeting the needs of students, “self-regulation” is the new buzzword. We cannot keep eliminating schools in neighbourhoods. Will not vote for the motion.
  • Leonard: Understand why the motion was put forward. The original hope was to move a program and save it, to move the school lock stock and barrel and save it as a school within a school. This District has been running a structural deficit for 5 or 6 years, and now is at $8.1 million. We start out with that every year. Sundance has more per pupil funding than any other school in the District. Every year staff cobble together a plan for one tie only savings, and still the deficit will be back. Now we have to fund hydro increase and the CUPE salary increase, both offloaded by government. Since I’ve been on the Board (1996) this District has been in declining enrolment. We can’t sustain the losses so have lost schools. Will support the motion. We’ll be back doing this all again if we don’t do it now. In 2002 this district cut $8 million worth of people. Closing this school in comparison is a small concession.
  • Horsman: This motion is an example of “be careful what you ask for”. There are many reasons why a small school can’t be supported. But not going to support this motion. Sundance can rise again in a new location. This Board once cut $8 million in one year. We can’t operate in a system that is consistently underfunded and bring in a balanced budget and maintain what we have. Public education has been under assault for a long time. Sundance has survived this long because the Board waned it to. Sundance is not on the table; the site is on the table. The spirit of Sundance can and will succeed, as long as everybody here commits to helping it survive.
  • McNally [to close on the motion]: This government is forcing public education Boards to operate in a business model attitude to education and move toward fee for service like private schools. Public education is clearly not the place to institute economies of scale.

ii) Moved Ferris

That the Board approves [sic] the relocation of the Sundance Elementary School program to Lakehill elementary School and closure of he current facility effective July 1, 2014. / Carried.   For: Ferris, Horsman, Leonard, McEvoy, Orcherton    Against: Alpha, Loring-Kuhanga, McNally, Nohr

  • McEvoy: Born in 1959, part of the baby boom. Infrastructure was provided for us at that time. The Victoria population was double what it is now. We will never get to 33,000 students again. Is this an easy decision? Yes, if it were just about Sundance. But we signed up for this and have to make hard decisions. Have to think about vulnerable kids in other schools too. Who in the room is speaking for those kids? Maybe parents using Sundance kids as bargaining chips here. [Later apologized for this remark.] We have asked for other options . We could save $80,000 if we put one more student in every high school class- that would reduce the number of teachers and EAs. Supply budget is being gutted.

iii) That the Sundance elementary School Closure Bylaw 14-01 be given all three readings sat the Board meeting n March 27, 2014 [Motion to be carried unanimously]. / Defeated.  For: Ferris, Horsman, Leonard, McEvoy, Orcherton    Against: Alpha, Loring-Kuhanga, McNally, Nohr

iv) That the Sundance Elementary School Closure Bylaw 14-01, being a Bylaw to close Sundance Elementary School, Facility No. 61008, located at 1625 Bank St, Victoria, effective July 1, 2014 be: Read a first and second time . [Was read first and second time.] 

  • Orcherton: Because of the lack of unanimity on the three readings motion, the third and final vote will go to an email poll vote. [The poll vote closed at 9 am Tuesday April : Carried.  5 in favour, 3 against and 1 abstention. No names are published in these poll votes, another reason to hold a public meeting as was requested according to Bylaw.]

D. Adjournment: 10:15

heart thorn


About Diane McNally