Houston trustee Les Kearns is now vice chair of Bulkley Valley School District 54 after 12 years as chair. Houston trustee Jennifer Williams was elected chair by acclamation. (Chris Gareau photo)

New SD54 chair to deal with potential Houston school closure

The baton has been passed at Bulkley Valley School District 54.

After 12 years as school board chair, Houston trustee Les Kearns chose to not put his name forward at last Tuesday’s board meeting. Houston’s other trustee Jennifer Williams was chosen to be the new chair by acclamation. Kearns was elected as vice chair by trustees.

Williams will lead the board through some difficult choices. There is the potential of closing Silverthorne Elementary in Houston, leaving the community with one elementary school.

Two motions involving the future of education in Houston were passed at last Tuesday’s meeting. The first was to direct senior administration to explore and pursue the option of requesting financial support from the Ministry for a fixed annex/addition in Houston.

The second was to apply for funding from the 2018/19 Rural Education Enhancement Fund in regards to a potential school closure. Staff and trustees stressed this was not a motion to close Silverthorne — yet.

“This is not a motion for school closure, but in order to apply for these fundings it has to have been discussed, the potential school closure,” said Chair Williams during the meeting.

“The intent of the Rural Education Enhancement Fund is basically to seek money or funding from the provincial government ministry (of Education) to support a school that may be in a position of closure,” explained SD54 treasurer Dave Margerm.

“The board is considering the option of closing at some point. So I think our recommendation as we perceive this is just to engage the ministry and trying to seek some funding either to maintain the school or to use the facilities money elsewhere.”

Margerm estimates the savings from closing a school to be $300,000-400,000 per year in operating costs. SD54 administration has insisted no teachers would be laid off, though administrative positions would be lost.

The purpose of the annex is to have more integration between Twain Elementary and Houston Secondary School, especially with older elementary students.

Kearns not sure on future

Now-vice chair Kearns said after the meeting he was not sure what his future holds with less than a year left until the next local elections.

He did earn praise from sd54 superintendent Chris van der Mark during the meeting.

“I can’t stress enough from a District staff perspective how important it has been to have the stability and consistency and the advocacy for kids that you in your roll as trustee have brought to this for 12 years,” he said.

“If you haven’t been around long, prior to Mr. Kearns coming into the chair role there were some issues. And there were some difficult times with the function of the board and in some cases the function of the District as well. I think certainly the ongoing stability, consistency and performance, and also perception of this District as innovative, progressive, as high functioning, and more importantly again, stable, really has been well mirrored in your time as chair.”

Kearns took time to reflect as well. His tenure has seen expansion of programming options and some facilities, but it has also been a period of school closures as student populations stagnated and shrunk.

“There’s been some hard times and we’ve pulled together and done better when the problems arose. In almost 12 years of being both a chair and trustee, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. I’ve enjoyed working with the students, I’ve enjoyed working with the trustees, and I’ve enjoyed working with the people at the board office, and all of the CUPE … and BVTU members,” said Kearns during the meeting.

“I think it’s just time for some new, young leadership. And so I have the utmost confidence in our new leader and her colleagues who will support her in her position and continue to do what’s best for kids because that’s what it’s all about.”

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