Saturday, April 01, 2006

Letter To The Editor - April 1, 2006 - From Peter Adamovich - Re: South Carvolth Environmental School Closure Decision

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I thought I was done when the board voted. I suppose I'm not through yet. I wrote this to the Times and the Advance, but when I looked and saw that it was almost 1000 words, I realized they'd never print it. I'll send it to the Free Press as it stands, and send a shorter version to the Times and the Advance. The focus may be slightly different when it's shorter...


I've written to your papers throughout the closure review, so you may know what side I'm on already. As a parent, I'm dissapointed with the result, but we each seem to have our opinions on that. As a taxpayer, I'm disappointed in the process, and that should concern all of us.

Part of the district's review policy states that alternatives to closing a school must be presented. None were. Why wasn't this questioned? The criteria for selecting a school for possible closure (a candidate school to be reviewed) aren't objective or measurable, with one exception: 200 or fewer F.T.E. 4 schools in Langley have less than 200 students, so why was South Carvolth the only one to be reviewed? If the board had been presented with more than a single yes or no option by the administration, it would be more likely that the board could have made a decision
that made a difference to the district as a whole.

Trustees, senior staff, and even editorial staff at the Times have said that this difficult decision is in the interests of all the students in the district. Only barely: South Carvolth had 27 empty desks, a little more than one maximum capacity elementary classroom. Closing this school does less to reduce excess capacity in the district than keeping it open, since new registrations for September were already more than the number of students graduating from Grade 7. Supposing for a moment that all the students are going to stay in the district (and they're not), the excess capacity in the district overall goes down by 0.7 percent.

If the district's aim is to reduce the excess capacity overall, they should have considered closing Bradshaw elementary, currently running at 52% capacity with only 166 students and a capacity of 317. Bradshaw students likely could still walk to Belmont, Alice Brown or Noel Booth, and while I recognize that means closing a school for almost twice the number of students, I think the possibility should have at least been considered. Closing South Carvolth would essentially mean that if students stay in the district, they would likely all have to be bussed to school, and even then the other schools would still not be at or near capacity.

What about the resources that go into "keeping an expensive school open for a small number of students". It has been stated that South Carvolth is a small school, and therefore very expensive on a per-student basis. While it's not the most expensive in the district, it is among the top five. But step back a moment, South Carvolth is a small school. So even if the cost per student is high, the total cost is not as much as any other school in the district. Again, closing South Carvolth has a very small effect on the district as a whole. And as I mentioned above, many students will not be attending Langley School District public schools following the closure, so the cost savings will not be fully realized by the other students in the district.

However, as the trustees have heard and many parents, students, and teachers have stated, South Carvolth is a successful learning environment. How much is a good education worth? Businesses talk about return on investment. Surely learning ought to be the measure, more importantly than the price per student. And these are our children we're talking about. Economies of scale should not be more important to us than the quality of the result.

What about the subject of declining enrollment? The district as a whole does have a serious problem on it's hands. However, the district's own figures show that South Carvolth's enrolment has gone up and down in the last 10 years, not steadily declined as claimed in the review report. The school was poised to have more students in 2006/07 than this year. This is without any increase from the High Point development, or the potential increase from sewer and water along 200th street.

All of these points were raised to the trustees, mostly through the Site Committee. The answers to the Site Committee's questions were difficult to obtain, and in many cases the information provided by district administration were non-answers or merely quotes from district policy. My last letter was printed in both the Times and the Advance, and was sent to all the trustees, urging them to be sure to review Glenn Miller's submission which did more to address all the points that should have been part of the review than anything the administration put together. Alison McVeigh responded to my email ensuring me that she had reviewed the information. It did not matter to her that more information was presented from concerned parents than the
district's own staff. It didn't matter to the 5 trustees who voted to close the school that the criteria for review are not measurable. It didn't matter to the administration that their figures on enrollment projections were changed between the original recommendation and the final review report, at least not enough for them to present some justification for the differences. In the final analysis, the district doesn't care enough to put any effort into a "difficult decision."

And how much did this review cost the district, and ultimately the residents and students of Langley? Every dollar spent on this review is a dollar not spent on education. I don't know the answer to that, but whatever the cost in time and research, it's not likely to be of benefit to all students in Langley School District #35.

Peter Adamovich

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