More than 500 people chanted “Save our school!” at a Vancouver School Board meeting Monday Oct. 25.
Parents, students and teachers were there to protest the closure of Sir Guy Carleton Elementary school.
“They knew they needed $1.4 million to save the school. If they close the school, they’re only saving $480,000,” said Radhika Girn, a mother of two Carleton students.
She and other parents raised concerns about the government’s decision-making in budgets for the Olympics and bike lanes.
At Windermere Secondary, the VSB trustees presented research that the actual annual savings of closing Carleton is $468,120.
Carleton is one of five schools slated for closure as the VSB need to make up for a $9.6 million budgetary shortfall. It was targeted because between 2001 and 2006, the growth rate in the Renfrew-Collingwood area is 0.8% but enrolment in Carleton has been steadily declining.
The capacity of the school is 513 students, but only 376 students are registered, at 73% capacity.
Still, Carleton has more students than the other five East Vancouver schools on the chopping block. There are six other elementary schools and one annex that the students could go to should Carleton close.
The VSB trustees did note, however, that Carleton has unique programs such as a subsidized breakfast/lunch program, childcare and a heritage value of 114 years, ranking 23 on 25 on the Commonwealth Heritage score.
At the beginning of the presentation, VSB superintendant, Steve Cardwell said, “Children are amazingly resilient, and at the end of the day, they are probably more adaptable to change than we are.”
“My son adjusted to make new friends and settled into his new place of living, but it was a challenge nevertheless. This process is going to be very difficult, but we must consider school closure as one option in these very challenging, trying, times.”
The soul of the community
Throughout the meeting, parents, teachers and students constantly claimed that Carleton was “the heart of the community.”
Scott Macdonald, a grade five teacher who has been coaching at Carleton for five years, said two former students described Carleton as a pillar of the community.
“Carleton and Collingwood Neighbourhood House are really the two pillars of their communities. And I’d like you to really think about it as that, as pillars.”
“Should one pillar fall, or be allowed to deteriorate, the result is devastation – devastation for our community, devastation for our children, for our parents, and we simply cannot allow that to happen… not today, not next year, not 20 years from now,” Macdonald said.
Although only 20 commentators were posted on the VSB’s website for the minutes of the meeting, there were actually 42, according to VSB’s communications manager, David Weir.
The dinging sound of a bell chimed incessantly urging the people to stop talking after they reached their three minute allotted time – but many ignored the bell.
One of them was the Vancouver-Kingsway MLA, Adrian Dix.
Dix arranged several community actions to keep the school open, including demonstrations in front of Carleton and the VSB building, a petition with more than 7000 signatures to-date, and an outdoor press conference on Sunday.
“To describe as betrayal the conduct of the provincial government with respect to this particular school is, I think, accurate,” he said.
The minister of education used Carleton as a “movie set” in 2005, when he promised to seismically upgrade the school, but reneged on that promise, he said.
Dix said he plans to continue the fight to keep Carleton open.
Meet the parents
For Khalimat Mayele, this battle is personal. The 11-year-old cried as soon as she stepped up to the microphone.
Her mother, Kemm Mayele, walked up to her, encouraging her and said, “Tell them what you want to say, don’t cry… let them hear your voice.”
“Carleton is not just a school full of students; Carleton is a big house full of families. I don’t want to move schools because I’ve met some very, very amazing people at Carleton, and Carleton has a lot of varieties of cultures,” she said.
“If Carleton closes down, a lot of those cultures would probably go away and I won’t be here anymore. And please, I really want my school to stay. I’m begging you guys, keep it open, keep it for all of us, please.”
The Mayele family are advocates for Carleton school. Kemm’s husband, Prince Mayele, stomped his feet and waved his fist in the air while shouting “Save our school!” at the VSB meeting.
“There are more taxes now so we should have more money for schools – nobody wants to pay that stupid HST, now they have to pay taxes on everything,” said Kemm Mayele.
“The wages don’t go up but the taxes go up.”
For Girn, as for many of the parents, the battle is also more than about money.
“If you tear down the school, you break our hearts; you don’t care for community, for diversity,” she said.
“They never told us what they’re going to do with that land because it’s valued at $2.5 million. And it’s the most populated school.”