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New West school board takes heat over daycare decision

Parents say trustees failed to fulfil their promise to consult with families.
Qayqayt Elementary School
École Qayqayt Elementary School is one of two schools housing infant-toddler daycare centres in the downtown area. Both centres, run by the Purpose Society, are being forced out as the district needs the space for classrooms to cope with enrolment growth.

New Westminster school trustees didn’t consult with families before they decided to displace two daycare centres from downtown schools — and parents aren’t impressed.

Parents turned out at Tuesday night’s school board meeting to raise concerns over how the School District 40 board handled the issue surrounding the two infant-toddler daycare centres run by Purpose Society. The school district has told Purpose it must vacate the spaces at École Qayqayt Elementary School and Fraser River Middle School because it needs the child-care space back to make room for more classrooms.

The move is part of an ongoing effort by the district to address a space crunch in New West schools, particularly in the fast-growing central core, and the board has said it’s been left with no choice.

But that didn’t sit well with parents, who cited promises by trustees Maya Russell and Dee Beattie — made during the civic election campaign in October — to consult with families before any changes were made to child care at the schools.

That didn’t happen, parent Laura Kwong pointed out. She noted trustees voted on the issue at their Nov. 8 operations committee meeting, and parents didn’t receive official communication until Nov. 10. Even then, she said, the board was “informing” the families, not consulting with them.

“Good governance should include good-faith consultation,” she said. “This is not what consultation looks like, and this is how trust is eroded between stakeholders.”

Parent James Plett said the board has only paid lip service to the idea of consultation with parents — a thought echoed by Leanne MacDonald, who said trustees had shirked their obligation to involve parents in the process. MacDonald said the alternative being proposed by the school district — to move the daycares to F.W. Howay Elementary School in Massey Victory Heights and to Lord Tweedsmuir Elementary School in the West End — are simply not realistic for many downtown families.

Sarah Arboleda agreed.

“We’re not disgruntled parents who are throwing a fit because they don’t want to look for new child care,” she said. “We’re future K-12 parents who cannot trust you to keep your word. A provincial budget is not your fault, but your own false promises certainly are.”

School district left with no other choices: board chair

Board chair Gurveen Dhaliwal agreed consultation had been limited.

“The unfortunate reality ... is that we had no other choices would allow us to prioritize the educational needs of K-12 learners,” she said. “No amount of consultation would have changed that stark reality.”

Russell acknowledged the parents’ disappointment with the board.

“We hear you. We can’t change how you feel about the board. I think all we can do is show you through our continued actions our sincerity,” she said. “Did we fulfil our promise in consultation? No, we did not.”

Russell said she initially believed the board would, in fact, have time for consultation before being forced to make a decision, but that turned out not to be the case.

“We need to go back and look internally at what happened there. I believed we had time for consultation,” she said. “I know it has hurt your trust in us, and that is very unfortunate.”

Beattie agreed, acknowledging an email she had sent to parents promising consultation on the issue.

“In my mind on that night we still had plenty of time. I think I thought we could push this one more year at that time, that we didn’t have to rush and make that decision,” she said.

But Beattie said secretary-treasurer Bettina Ketcham made it clear in a lengthy report, presented at the Nov. 8 operations committee meeting, that the district had no options. There’s no other school district-owned site in the centre of the city with space available to house the centres, and the funding available to the district to move the child-care spaces to Howay and Tweedsmuir is only available for district-owned space.

School board working with city on search for other child-care sites

Russell also told parents that much work is going on behind the scenes to attempt to find alternatives for the two daycares.

Dhaliwal said she’s already spoken with Mayor Patrick Johnstone about the issue to discuss what other options — including city-owned sites — might be available in the downtown area. A school board/city working group will be meeting in December to consider some of those options.

She said the board will have more to report on the issue at its Dec. 13 meeting.

In the meantime, trustees finalized their vote to give notice to Purpose Society that it must vacate both premises by March 2024.

The district will also continue to work on plans to move the two child-care centres to Howay and Tweedsmuir, in the event that no other site can be located in a more central part of the city.

Follow Julie MacLellan on Twitter @juliemaclellan.
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