One could say Christmas came early in Chetwynd.
While a potential school closure review is ongoing for Don Titus Montessori in Chetwynd, School District 59 officials have confirmed that the school will not close for the 2019/20 school year.
“Given timelines that would be required if we wanted to, we wouldn’t be able to do it this year,” says secretary-treasurer Melissa Panoulias. “Any school closure, if it occurs, will at the earliest occur in July 2020.”
The issue was prompted by a letter from the Don Titus PAC to the school board asking for clarification whether the school is closing for next year.
“The public perception within Chetwynd is that the Don Titus school is slated for closure. We would like the Board to recognize that by not specifying a timeline for the ‘review,’ we are unable to provide any reassurance or guidance to our parents or community regarding the fate of the school for the 2019/2020 school year,” reads the letter.
A bylaw for the school closure — if it is recommended to go through with — would not be presented to the board until at least next fall, and would require three readings to pass, likely at separate meetings.
The board noted this potential closure is more complex than previous school closures in the district. (Rolla school, which was the most recent school to close in the district in 2017, had 21 students at the end. Tate Creek had under 20 when it closed in 2014. Don Titus has 96 students according to final enrolment numbers in October, up from 80 last year).
“In this case it’s not about enrolment, it’s about capacity altogether of all of the schools in Chetwynd — we can fit students into less schools than there are,” says chair Tamara Ziemer. “It’s not that Don Titus doesn’t have enough enrolment to continue on, it’s that all of them together don’t.”
The review went into motion because of low utilization rates compared to capacity in the Chetwynd elementary schools. While Little Prairie is at 75% utilization (222 students out of 295), Don Titus has 49% (96/195) and Windrem 44% (85/195). In total, that puts the three schools at a 59% utilization rate (403/685).
Little Prairie is the newest of the three and most utilized, while Don Titus will likely require higher renovation costs, and would be easier to dispose of than Windrem as it is not attached to a high school.
The school board has initiated the process before with the end result being that the school remains open, they note
“This one in particular is a lot of work,” says Panoulias. “I need to know what are the ramifications if that school closes, how is that going to affect the other ones?
“If I find out it’s not [feasible], I won’t bring forward a recommendation [to close it].”