Willoughby schools are close to crisis

R.C. Garnett parents have had to put up with a lot in recent years, as the school gets more crowded.

Langley Board of Education has its work cut out for it.

The situation in Willoughby schools is rapidly approaching a crisis, and at the same time the board is consumed with all the fallout from its decision to get rid of Superintendent Cheryle Beaumont.

As I have commented earlier, the board had every right to change superintendents. However, the challenge right now is that there are many urgent situations that require a firm hand on the  tiller, and it is hard for any acting superintendent, no matter how capable, to provide all the help needed.

It’s also important to remember that the school district needs to pay about $10 million or so out of upcoming operating budgets back to the province, as a result of past fiscal mismanagement.

R.C. Garnett parents have had to put up with a lot in recent years as a result of provincial funding restrictions and a local government that has been so consumed with development that it failed to understand how that development impacted schools. Now they are being told that Grade 6 and 7 students should go to the new Lynn Fripps Elementary next fall, until a new middle school is opened.

Fripps is located about 20 blocks away from Garnett, and that will be a long walk for many students. If they walk, they will pass by another full-to-the-seams elementary school, Willoughby Elementary.

Busing will be provided at no cost, the district has told parents.

This comes a short time after parents of prospective Kindergarten students at Garnett lined up all night in an effort to get one of the few spaces available next year.

At the same time, the board of education has to live with a past decision on a land swap. The district is part of a three-way swap (involving the Township and a developer). The site held for a new school in the Routley neighbourhood is being exchanged for another one far to the north in Yorkson.

By the way, the motion to go ahead with the land swap was made at a closed board meeting in November, 2009 by Trustee Wendy Johnson, who is now the board chair, and seconded by Trustee Alison McVeigh, who was censured by the board last week for stating to the media and the public that the board had fired Beaumont.

The final decision on the Routley swap is to be made by the board at a special meeting tonight (Tuesday). It has little choice. A great deal of work, including approval from the minister of education, has gone into this already, and a decision to back out would cost the district millions.

In the meantime, parents of children west of 200 Street — an area that will continue to grow — have no neighbourhood school available to them. Garnett is full. Langley Meadows, which is also west of 200 Street, can take some of them, but that is only a partial solution.

The school district needs to do far more consulting with the community and particularly with parents of young children who are not yet part of the school system. It plans to hold a public consultation on its plans for Willoughby sometime in the next few months, and this is badly needed.

However, it also needs to be far more proactive with the Township and have a much better handle on what’s coming down the pipeline.