Deroche school a community social hub: parents

Rene Inkster

Rene Inkster

Closing Deroche Elementary School would eliminate one of the rural community’s social gathering hubs, parents told school board trustees last Wednesday.

“We rely on each other … we rely on our school,” explained Richelle Meneghetti, Deroche PAC chair.

That sentiment was echoed by numerous speakers last week when the public meeting was held at the school as Mission Public Schools considers closing Deroche and Durieu elementary. “Shutting down our school is like shutting down our community.”

Alisha Trottier has a daughter in Grade 1 and two sons attending an early learning program program offered in the school.

“If it wasn’t for the StrongStart program here at Deroche, none of us parents would have known that we all lived within five minutes of each other. That’s one of the downsides of living in a rural community,” she said. “We don’t have any other common ground except Deroche elementary.”

Declining enrolment is the main argument used to justify closing the school, however, several parents said the numbers used are flawed and lack community knowledge.

The district uses Baragar, an independent company, to run enrolment projections. The company has estimated there are 41 children zero to four years old in Deroche’s catchment area.

The PAC says there are 51, including 20 from the nearby Leq’a:mel First Nation.

Baragar estimates enrolment will total 64 students in 2015/2016 but parents say their research shows an estimated 74 children will be at the school four years from now, which is higher than Deroche’s current student total.

“This leads us to wonder why our estimated enrolment is decreasing when it should be increasing,” said PAC president Meneghetti. “Looking at the Baragar projections we have found that they are assumptions without local knowledge, supporting trends like women under 20 years of age and women over 34 years of age are not within child-bearing years.”

However, she continued, a neighbour had a child at 16 and the 35-year-old PAC treasurer is expecting a baby shortly.

“Can anyone really accurately predict who is moving into a community? Who is moving out? How many teens are using precautions properly or how many 35-40 year olds decide to have just one more?” Meneghetti asked.

The school board presentation kicked off the evening and noted approximately $288,500 would be saved by closing the school.

Parents challenged that number and listed some of the new costs and loss of grants which cut away at the potential savings. A new bus route could cost upwards of $50,000, and the district would lose the $157,500 small community grant currently paid by the Ministry of Education if the school closed, said Meneghetti.

Important dates

• Written submissions and/or requests to make a presentation to the board on Feb. 22 must be received by Feb. 5.

• Regular board of education meeting, Feb. 15, 6:30 p.m., Hatzic elementary.

• Trustees decided which, if any, of the schools will close at a Feb. 22 meeting at Hatzic secondary school, 7 p.m. Written submissions regarding the closure must be sent to the secretary-treasurer or superintendent by Feb. 8.