Council ups ante on keeping K-12 in city

The motion was to keep the options for education open for residents of Rossland. Click here to read the full story or an excerpt below.

 

The tiny city council chambers gallery was packed Monday as people came out to hear what council had to say on a grant-in-aid deal to go to the school district board. - Timothy Schafer

 

When the smoke cleared in council chambers Monday night the motion to ante up taxpayers’ money in a bid to keep kindergarten to Grade 12 education in Rossland was still standing.

A 90-minute debate, emotional at times, raged across the floor in council, with a narrow vote—four-to-three—ultimately passing the motion for the City to offer a grant-in-aid of $140,000 per year for three years to School District 20 (Kootenay Columbia), with the condition kindergarten to Grade 12 grades remain in Rossland for the school years of 2013-2018.

Councillor Jill Spearn spoke at length to introduce the motion—in front of a packed council chambers of 20 people—reading from her pages of notes on the merit of keeping all 13 grades in the Golden City in an attempt to sway the majority of council in favour of approving the motion.

But it was a late amendment to the motion, after over one hour of discussion, that courted the majority of council’s approval.

The amendment by councillor Kathy Wallace—that if the grant-in-aid was accepted by SD20 a referendum would be held on the issue of raising taxes —quelled the fears of some councillors about community-wide acceptance.

“I will say it again, this is not our responsibility … ” Mayor Greg Granstrom began.

“But sustainability is,” interjected Spearn, pounding the table.

“When you speak to sustainability, is $140,000 sustainable when you have to raise taxes? What is sustainable?” he replied.

Earlier in the debate, councillor Cary Fisher said the real balancing act for council would be to counteract the expected rise in taxes from all levels of government.

“Down the road everything is going up,” he said, “and the town can’t support it. It’s not sustainable for the town to keep adding things on.

He called for other things in the City budget to be cut to keep the balance for the city’s taxpayers.

The amendment was passed four to three, with councillors Kathy Wallace, Moore, Jody Blomme and Tim Thatcher, as well as Granstrom, in favour. Later in the evening, Wallace, Moore, Spearn and Fisher carried the main motion.

After the meeting, Neighbourhood of Learning (NOL) committee chair Aerin Guy—the group working to keep all grades in the city—said she was glad the debate took place, and that council does have its ear to the ground of the community.

“But this let’s us move forward with the negotiations with the school district,” she said. “They had to put the pieces of the puzzle in place for this to take place.”

An overwhelming majority of Rosslanders were found to be in favour of an increase in taxation to support the continuation of kindergarten to Grade 12 education in the Golden City, after a week-long, city-wide poll was conducted by the NOL committee.

The results of the poll were delivered two weeks ago to Rossland City council and it was revealed that 60 per cent of the respondents supported a tax increase if it meant grades 10-12 would be kept in the community.

 

Back and forth

On Feb. 25 the SD20 board of trustees voted in favour of closing MacLean Elementary School in the city, moving the grades to Rossland Secondary School (RSS), and lopping off the top three senior grades (grades 10-12) and moving them down the hill to Trail’s J.L. Crowe Secondary School.

The decision lit a fire under City council to come up with a financial offer to the school district to keep three senior grades in RSS until a more permanent solution could be found.

But Spearn said the offer was about more than taxpayer dollars. She argued repeatedly that the motion would only serve to be a jumping off point for negotiations with the school district, and did not commit the city residents to a tax hike of around $55 (average).

 

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