The Kootenay Lake board of education has asked its staff to study the implications of “de-amalgamating” by breaking Creston into its own district.
However, the trustee who is leading the charge on the idea abstained from the vote, believing such an investigation is unnecessary.
Chair Lenora Trenaman introduced the motion, which asks for a look at the educational, operational, and financial consequences of splitting the district apart.
The former School District 7 (Nelson) and 86 (Creston-Kaslo) were amalgamated in 1996 as part of a province-wide redrawing of school district boundaries.
Trenaman noted Gribbin has raised the issue since he was first elected, and invited him to bring it to the board for discussion.
He declined, although he has raised the issue with candidates for provincial and local office to gauge their support for such a move.
“There is time before the next election to gain some understanding of what that would look like, should interest from the community warrant advocacy for de-amalgamating,” Trenaman said.
“How would we best serve our students? What would the financial revenues look like? Would the Ministry of Education be interested?”
While she suspects the answer from the ministry would be no, Trenaman said she agrees the geography involved makes the district “challenging to administer.”
“When they amalgamated this district, did they really factor in that there’s a mountain pass, a lake, and a ferry and half the year we’re on different time zones?”
Trenaman said the intent of her motion is to come up with information that might inform a decision and potentially help lobby the ministry.
However, Gribbin doesn’t think it’s needed, and he’s skeptical that the results will be impartial.
Gribbin said in his mind, the decision whether to pursue de-amalgamation will hinge on the results of the next trustee election, to be held in October 2022. He says it could be considered a referendum on the issue.
If all three Creston Valley trustees are elected on a de-amalgamation platform, it would be a sign that the community supports moving in that direction, he said.
“If they vote in three candidates dedicated to restoring the Creston school district, then the discussions and negotiations and all the political background work that’s going to have to go on would occur,” he said.
But in the meantime, he doesn’t see any merit in sending staff to investigate how the district might be affected. Furthermore, he doesn’t trust what they will come up with.
“The board is giving Nelson district employees the authority to gather that information and determine the impacts,” he said. “I’m concerned they’re going to be interested in protecting their own positions and de-amalgamation will be seen as a reduction in their employment status.”
Gribbin said he believes that amalgamation was a mistake and that the Creston Valley would be better served with its own district, citing its uniqueness in a number of ways.
He points to the fact that it is home to the only First Nations reserve in the district, as well as the polygamous community of Bountiful, whose children have started to attend public school in greater numbers in recent years.
Gribbin said Creston used to have its own board office, superintendent and other administrators, and the loss of those positions has left the community feeling “relegated to the sticks.”