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School cuts to be centre of meeting

Tonight, parents and stakeholders hope the waiting will be at least partially over, but the worrying may be just beginning over school closures and cuts to the local education budget. At 7 p.m.

Tonight, parents and stakeholders hope the waiting will be at least partially over, but the worrying may be just beginning over school closures and cuts to the local education budget.

At 7 p.m., School District 57 administration discloses the recommendations senior staff have been wrestling with for more than three months, pertaining to how $4.1 million can be chopped off of the SD57 bottom line. The cuts were already necessary to an extent but it became a crisis when, with no specific warning, the provincial government axed every school district's Annual Facilities Grant due to the effects of the global economic downturn.

To deal with the loss of those millions of dollars, SD57's board of trustees struck the District Sustainability Committee led by superintendent Brian Pepper, secretary-treasurer Bryan Mix, and others they called upon for help. They have done little else but crunch numbers since late September. Pepper said during that time that no aspect of the local education business was immune to change, all cost reduction possibilities were being explored.

"We expect that the report of the committee will include recommendations for school closures as well as for reorganizing how we provide services to students in our district," said Lyn Hall, chair of the board of trustees.

Hall also stressed that tonight's meeting is intended to introduce the report to the board and is not designed to receive presentations from schools and communities that could potentially be affected by closures. There will be at least 60 days of public consultation for people to have their say.

A large crowd is expected at the meeting. Next door to the School District 57 headquarters is the Van Bien Training Centre and additional space has been made available there, with a live broadcast link to the main meeting chamber. The public can also watch the meeting at home on a live internet broadcast (

"We will be attending the meeting and have requested that two seats be reserved for DPAC, and suggested that seats also be reserved for the other official stakeholder groups," said District Parent Advisory Council chair Don Sabo. "It is going to be a very popular and well-attended meeting. It will be standing room only at both locations, I think."

"We haven't been privy to any of the discussions, but it makes sense that there will be schools closed and there will be jobs lost for CUPE, for administrators and for us. And there may be other restructuring, reconfiguration, anything is possible," said Linda Naess, president of the Prince George District Teachers' Association.

"We think local trustees have done a good job for managing the budget for this district," Naess added. "They recently came out with a three-year plan, they were organized, they dealt with declining enrolment and shrinking budgets, but when all this came down from the government it left trustees in a very dire situation. They have to make some horrendous decisions now, and it is not their fault, they did their planning very well, so for the provincial government to hit them with this is very unfair."

Hall said, "We are extremely sensitive to the anxieties and emotions that come with being told that your child's school is under consideration for closure, but I want to assure everyone that they will be given ample opportunity to make their views known and to ask the tough questions during the consultation period."

The report of the District Sustainability Committee will be available to the public in printed form at tonight's meeting and will also be available for downloading from the district's website ( once the meeting begins.

The trustees will simply discuss the report in general and take possession of it, tonight. They will make no decisions, said Hall, until at least the next regularly scheduled board meeting which is Jan. 26. If they decide on that night to motion for any given school to be closed, that would trigger a 60-day public consultation period.

The next meeting of the PGDTA is scheduled for Jan. 28; the next DPAC meeting is scheduled for Feb. 1.