Cowichan school district transport review a go in spite of uncertainty

School trustees decided Feb. 14 that there was no point in postponing their transportation review to see what happens

School trustees decided Feb. 14 that there was no point in postponing their transportation review to see what happens as the province and school districts figure out how to deal with the court ruling about class size and composition.

That tangled situation, now in the forefront of most school board discussions around the province, could mean not only re-arrangements of school classes but is likely to affect catchment areas for busing as well.

Trustee Barb De Groot asked that any review of transportation be postponed until Bill 28 — which deals with the fallout from the Supreme Court of Canada finding that the province was wrong to strip class size and composition language out of the teachers’ contract more than 10 years ago — and the bill’s follow-up results can be clearly analyzed.

However, members of the Cowichan Valley board of education have had questions about busing since last spring, which are still waiting to be answered in a transportation review.

One of those calling for the review was Trustee Cathy Schmidt and she wasn’t backing down.

“We need this information. To cancel the review would be a step back,” she said.

Board chair Candace Spilsbury asked if district senior staff already know what might be needed for next year to deal with Bill 28.

Schools superintendent Rod Allen replied, “we have good info on class size but not on class composition. We just don’t know that yet.”

District secretary-treasurer Jason Sandquist added, “It could have a significant impact on some of our schools. It could possibly involve the movement of catchment areas.”

Trustee Rob Hutchins cut to the chase.

“Will those changes be in place by Sept. 1?” he asked, but Sandquist told him the district has no way of knowing yet.

Trustee Joe Thorne agreed with De Groot.

“I don’t want to support something now and not know the outcome,” he said.

Schmidt was not giving up.

“One of this board’s strategic goals was a transportation review,” she said, expressing concern that shoving the discussion on to the back burner now could push it too close to the end of the board’s mandate.

Hutchins agreed that none of the items discussed might result in hard and fast decisions right away.

“We need to blend the new reality into that plan,” he said.

Trustee Elizabeth Croft also agreed, saying that she could “understand suspending actions and conclusions” but not the whole review.

Allen said that at this stage, the district has been collecting data in the context of neighbouring districts, and considering budget implications.

“Without knowing, moving forward, how many students it involves, it’s hard to run the numbers,” he said.

Schmidt saw the tide turning her way, though.

“The board had several questions. We haven’t had those answers yet. We may decide not to take action but it doesn’t make sense to stop halfway through this.”

Sandquist replied, “I believe we have the answers to give but we haven’t done that yet.”

Croft added, “If we fully suspend the review we might miss something.”

Eventually, the board decided to go ahead and plan for their long-awaited transportation review after all.