A baby boom in Burton has local parents hoping the elementary school there could be reopened.
Parents in the community south of Nakusp met with the Superintendent of School District No. 10 and its Director of Learning last week to talk about the idea.
“We’re at the information-gathering stage,” cautions SD10 Superintendent Terry Taylor. “It’s a complicated piece of planning.”
The school in Burton closed in 2012 after its enrollment dropped to four students. Children have been bussed to Nakusp since.
But it seems that young families, fleeing the high cost of housing elsewhere, have begun to repopulate the town.
“Talking with parents, it seems the land there is more affordable, so families are making the choice to move to Burton,” said Taylor. “Until recently, it’s been seniors who’ve been moving there, retirees.”
There are some factors working in the parent’s favour. Burton is the most recently built school in the district, constructed in the late 1990s. It’s been kept in good condition, and some programs — a pre-school program and an outdoor entrepreneurship program — still use the building. Community volunteers have also repurposed the building as the Burton Community Learning Centre, fostering activities related to fitness, community information and services, food security and arts and culture.
It also helps that the school is located on established bus routes, said Taylor.
But reopening a school is a longer-term commitment, and that will take funding security, says Taylor.
“The big piece we have to do is running forecasts, financial projections, and consider the impact of re-opening it on Nakusp Elementary,” she said. The enrollment in the district overall has been shrinking for several years.
Also complicating the issue is that the provincial funding formula for schools is under review, said Taylor. They’re expecting to hear how the new formula will work in 2019.
“We know how funding works now, there are some advantages to small rural schools, geographic factors etc.,” she said. “But we don’t know how the funding formula will work moving forward.
“Part of what I told the parents is we have to talk to the ministry about the funding model, so we know we have some kind of certainty after March 2019.”
They also have to have a commitment from a solid core of parents. Any class would be multi-year — think one-room school house — and there has to be a minimum of 15 students to make the project feasible.
“It is a complicated piece of planning, the biggest cost is staff, it’s 85 per cent of our budget,” she said.
Taylor says she’ll be bringing the issue forward to trustees at the next school board meeting, on Dec. 12.