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Richmond parents rally to try and save 3 schools from chopping block

FILE PHOTO: A crowd of close to 200 kids and parents rallied outside Richmond-Steveston MLA John Yap's office Saturday demanding more funding for public education. Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

A crowd of close to 200 kids and parents rallied outside Richmond-Steveston MLA John Yap’s office Saturday demanding more funding for public education.

“It’s one of the most important things to invest in as a community and as a taxpayer,” said parent Tom Haggie.

“This week the province boasted that we have a $1.9 billion (with a ‘B’) surplus but we don’t have money for our schools for our kids. It doesn’t make sense,” echoed Lisa Fisher of the Dixon Elementary School Parent Advisory Council.

Dixon is one of three Richmond elementary schools being considered for closure. Woodward and McKay are also on the chopping block as declining enrolment leads to empty classrooms.

Shutting the doors would save the district about $750,000 a year while increasing the elementary capacity usage from 85 to 91 per cent. The Ministry of Education requires schools reach 95 per cent capacity in order to qualify for seismic upgrades.

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“Everywhere else in Canada it’s significantly lower,” said Kelly Greene of Richmond Schools Stand United, a group petitioning B.C. to change their capacity requirement to 85 per cent maximum.

Kim Nowitsky, also with Richmond Schools Stand United, said any school closures would create an untenable situation in the surviving schools.

“It’s going to have a huge impact on families. Some of the schools will be operating at a 125% capacity, which is absurd,” she said.

Richmond parents are not alone in their fight. Up to 12 schools in Vancouver are facing potential closure. One of them, Britannia Secondary, was granted a reprieve last Thursday. The east side school, which offers a unique program for its 30 per cent aboriginal population and many students from low income families has been removed from the chopping block for now.

“We’ve got a lot of vulnerable kids in this community. They all deserve a great education. This school brings people together to do that and we want to grow that,” said Vancouver School Board Chair Mike Lombardi.

But with enrolment declining for more than a decade, the closures would help balance the budget and boost capacity to get provincial funding for seismic upgrades.

The final list of Vancouver school closures will be approved on September 26 with trustees making a final decision in December.

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In Richmond, the Superintendent’s Report on School Closure will be presented to the Board of Education on September 19. Trustees will then meet with each school community before making their final decision on October 17. Any school closures would take effect July 1, 2017.