Guest Commentary, Mankee Mah, Co-Chair U Hill Elementary PAC
In its Educational Facilities Review for the Dunbar to UBC Study Area, VSB proposes:
1. To close Queen Elizabeth Annex
2. To build 2 new schools at UBC
3. To carry out seismic upgrades
Some argue that the need to build 2 new schools is why VSB is closing Queen Elizabeth Annex (QEA). Is it?
Let us imagine, for a moment, that there is no need to build new schools at UBC. Would QEA still be considered for closure?VSB’s operating budget grant from the provincial government is based on student enrolment and not on the number of buildings, the amount of floor space, or how much more expensive it is to maintain a particular building. In order words, money spent on maintaining excess space equal less money for education.
The catchment area that QEA is part of has 2 elementary schools for English instruction (QEA and Queen Elizabeth) and 2 elementary schools for French Immersion (QEA and Jules Quesnel). QEA is a K-3 school with 129 students. After grade 3, students in English instruction continue their studies at Queen Elizabeth. Students in French Immersion continue their studies at Jules Quesnel.
In their review of excess space, VSB recommends that QEA move in with Queen Elizabeth. Both QEA and Queen Elizabeth already share the same school Principal and the French Immersion program will continue at Queen Elizabeth. With the higher cost of maintaining an annex, closing down QEA would put more money back into education than just simply downsizing Queen Elizabeth. VSB estimates an average savings of $1000 per student space. In the case of QEA, that could be $130,000 a year.
True, our children’s education is not for sale. But, is that the case here? Queen Elizabeth is still a wonderful school in the same, wonderful neighbourhood. Children in French Immersion will still go on to Jules Quesnel after grade 3.
Let’s look at what giving up a savings of $130,000 a year could mean to us. With declining enrolment that translates to declining provincial funding, could that mean more cut-backs to resource teachers, books, or hot lunch programs? We expect our government and its public entities to use our tax dollars effectively. Why then do we, at the same time, want to prevent them from doing so?
Time to put the needs of not one but 2 new schools at UBC back in the picture. Yes, proceeds from the sale of the QEA grounds can help make the new secondary school and a new elementary school in the UBC neighbourhood a reality. But, VSB has already stated in their proposal that the closure of QEA is for the “future financial sustainability” of the district.
In the last 3 weeks, UBC has been under fire by parents who have misinterpreted their planning documents and demanded that UBC pay for the new schools. I trust that recent statements from UBC have quieted down those discussions. If you’ve missed the Vancouver Sun articles or the detailed statement circulated by UBC, you can get a copy from the UHill Elementary PAC’s website at http://uhillpac.wordpress.com.
Lost in the midst of all above controversies are the seismic upgrades at Queen Elizabeth, Queen Mary, and Jules Quesnel. Unlike Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary that can rotate their renovations by moving students around in the school, Jules Quesnel is bursting at the seams. VSB recommends that while Jules Quesnel undergoes seismic upgrades, the entire student body would re-locate to the new elementary school at UBC before the new school is open for full occupancy by local students. If there is no new school for Jules Quesnel students to go to, some or all of the students would be moved into portables. But since there is limited space at Jules Quesnel, these portables will be placed on the grounds of Queen Elizabeth. What would this mean? If all of the students from Jules Quesnel are moved into portables, Queen Elizabeth will have to share its gym, cafeteria, library, and washrooms with 400+ more students. If only some of the students are moved into portables, they will be separated from their friends and their school. Given the alternatives, relocating students to the new elementary is a better solution for the students.
We seem to have a good knack for knocking down suggestions. We want to debate them before we can accept or support them. I appreciate this process as this is what makes us human. But, let’s not forget that this proposal for the Dunbar to UBC Study Area is the result of more than 5 years of discussions with parents, UBC, and VSB. We must remain focused on a solution that works for all our children.