BEYOND THE HEADLINES: Stepping up to the plate

Parents take notice of those perceived to be sitting on sidelines of Armstrong school plan

Parents were taking notice of those perceived to be sitting on the sidelines when it comes to the future of Armstrong schools.

And particularly, they were looking to their community leaders.

“Spallumcheen council has been a great supporter and wants the four schools open because of growth in Spallumcheen,” said Kim Weston, part of a team trying to stop the North Okanagan-Shuswap School District from closing Armstrong Elementary School.

“In Armstrong, we’re not getting the same vocal support (from council). They haven’t come forward.”

In a Feb. 5 letter to the school district, Spallumcheen politicians indicated the difficult enrolment and financial issues facing trustees.

“However, as you are aware, schools are necessary for the maintenance and growth of a healthy community,” wrote Mayor Janice Brown.

“Please carefully consider all input and options, including the creative ideas provided by the community, which may enable the four Armstrong-Spallumcheen schools to be maintained in their current configuration.”

However, no firm stand appeared to be coming from Armstrong council.

In fact, during a recent interview, Mayor Chris Pieper seemed resigned to the situation, pointing to a drop in students and the need for the school district to get its books in order.

“Something has to happen. We knew we were probably going to go from four to three schools,” he said.

Obviously, reality can’t be ignored. The school district is facing a $1.3 million shortfall, largely because provincial funding doesn’t keep up with the cost of living. Belts have been tightened over the years and the district is running out of options so capital efficiencies are proposed.

But despite the facts and figures, many residents still oppose boarding up a school.

First and foremost, there are emotional ties to schools that have served some families for generations. More practically, there is the concern the remaining three schools will be packed to the rafters if AES closes, particularly given future growth —Armstrong’s population in 2015 was 4,991, up 1.5 per cent from 2014, while in Spallumcheen, there was 0.8 per cent hike from 5,166 to 5,207.

In the end, municipal councils are the form of government closest to the people and politicians are readily at hand. You will see them at the grocery store or the coffee shop.

There is an expectation that councils as a whole will stand behind the community on major issues even if individual councillors are personally lukewarm to the topic.

Finally, Armstrong council stepped up to the plate Monday, issuing a statement.

“City council encourages the school board to take into consideration all impacts and seek out all possible solutions. Regardless of whose voice is speaking, the matter of school closures affects our entire community,” said Pieper in the release.

Some residents will still wonder what took Armstrong council so long to get to this point, but that’s now irrelevant.

The fact is that Armstrong’s civic leaders have united with their residents and their counterparts in Spallumcheen and are providing a united voice.