Enrolment drop still on the books

Construction of a new Vernon secondary school and opening of new Coldstream Elementary school highlight 2011 Vernon School District year

The construction of a new Vernon secondary school, and the opening of the new Coldstream elementary school were just two of the highlights of a year filled with highs and lows for the Vernon School District.

In February, the provincial government indicated that the per student funding would rise to $8,357, although school districts were informed that the increase was not likely to meet the costs generated by inflation, declining enrolment and costs associated with the Ministry of Education’s personalized learning initiatives.

“Enrolment is still going down and it’s not expected to level out until about 2019,” said Turanski. “Hopefully, the decline will be less and less, but the economy being what it is, there aren’t the jobs here. We get a lot of retirees moving into the area, but that doesn’t help with enrolment.”

Current full-time equivalent enrolment sits at 8,329 students, 150 fewer than the previous year.

Meanwhile, the district is gearing up for the B.C. Winter Games scheduled for Feb. 23 and 24. Schools will be closed on both of those dates to accommodate game participants who will be using the school gyms as game venues and the classrooms as dormitories.

“To meet the ministry’s requirements for the number of days that classes must be in session, the school calendar was adjusted so that students’ Christmas break was reduced by two days, which will be made up by the closure next month.”

The district is moving closer to signing an Aboriginal Enhancement Agreement, a working agreement between a school district, aboriginal communities, and the ministry designed to enhance the educational achievement of aboriginal students. It establishes a partnership between aboriginal communities and school districts that involves shared decision-making and goal setting to meet the educational needs of aboriginal students.

In June, the teachers’ collective agreement expired, following contract talks that began in March, with teachers across the province beginning phase one of their job action in September.

So far, there has been little progress made in negotiations between teachers and the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association (BCPSEA).

“When negotiations began in March, I was optimistic, but we’ve now had four months to get some progress and it hasn’t happened,” said Turanski. “The problem is that we have two entrenched positions: the BCTF says it won’t accept the net-zero mandate, and the government says you will accept it.”

The provincial government implemented a net-zero wage increase for all negotiations with public sector employees between 2010 and 2012.

The job action still has teachers in the classroom but not providing student supervision in the morning or at recess, and not handling any type of administrative duties, including the issuing of formal report cards.

Teachers have expressed their disappointment at the district’s cancellation of recess, but Turanski said there is a lack of personnel to provide an adequate and safe level of student supervision.

“You do the best you can, and we are faced with issues that we didn’t totally anticipate and we dealt with this as best that we could.

“With other districts, I think we’ll find that recess will be cancelled simply because the job action has gone on for so long, and people are getting burned out. The problem is that it’s not just 15 minutes for our administrative staff — if you have to travel to a school to supervise, the travel time and getting there a little bit early brings it to probably an hour, so it really interrupts the day.”

He said superintendent Bev Rundell is essentially the district’s CEO.

“She doesn’t have to run to the board every time a decision needs to be made. Her job is to make sure the district is running as effectively as possible, although she certainly consults with us on every major decision.”

Turanski said the restructuring of secondary education is an ongoing concern, with districts finding new ways to meet students’ needs while dealing with declining enrolment.

“I don’t know how it’s going to be done, but if it’s mandated, it must be done slowly because there is always a resistance to change, so how it is implemented is just as important as when.

“We may not always be able to offer a wide range of courses at every school, but if we have a certain course where we don’t have enough students at one school, we can bring in students from another, where we will transport them. We probably can’t offer them at every school, but we can maybe offer courses in one or two secondary schools.”

November saw the election to the board of five new trustees, with John Armstrong, Kelly Smith, Tami Ryder, Mitzi Fortin and Doris Squair joining incumbents Turanski and Mollie Bono.

“I feel it’s great to have a new perspective and we are looking forward to a good working relationship,” he said.

For Turanski, beginning his 19th year as a trustee is a continuation of the public education that has been part of his life since he started school at six years old. And attending sometimes three meetings in one day means it’s a full-time job for Turanski, but one he loves.

“I have enjoyed what I’m doing,” he said. “When I first retired (as principal) from BX, I lasted one year, before I needed to get back to work.”