Woss School slated for closure

Woss Lake Elementary School is being slated for closure next year

“It’s a challenging time for Woss,” Regional District of Mount Waddington Administrator Greg Fletcher told the

board of directors at their monthly meeting Feb. 17. Fletcher was referring to Woss Lake Elementary School

being slated for closure next year. While the Woss school started the year with seven students, it is now down

to four, and it is projected there will be three for next year, said School District #85 Superintendent of Schools

Scott Benwell. In order to keep the school open, there has to be a full-time teacher, an educational assistant,

and other individuals performing duties required to keep the school functioning such as janitorial, maintenance,

etc. “There are costs associated with all of that,” said Benwell. According to Secretary/Treasurer John Martin, it

costs “in the neighbourhood of $180,000 to run the school.” The board would receive funding of $52,000 for the

three students next year, leaving a shortfall of $128,000. “Once the enrolment drops below seven students (the

financial break-even point) the board has to use money allocated for other schools to keep Woss open,” Martin

said. “This is a demographic closure. A lack of students closure,” said Benwell, adding that the district has kept

the Woss school open with six or seven students for the last number of years. The board gave first reading to

the closure bylaw at their monthly meeting Feb. 15. The matter will be dealt with at both the March and April

board meetings. There will be opportunities for consultation and input, and there will be a community meeting in

Woss on a yet-to-be scheduled date.If a closure becomes a reality, “it is our intent to work with the community

to find alternatives for the school,” said Benwell. “We have no interest in disposing of property or schools,”

Benwell said, adding the district likes to seem them utilized in the community “as long as it’s not costing us

money. “This is not the first time Woss school has been in this position.”We had a school closure bylaw (on the

table) in 2010. This is not a new issue,” said Martin.”It is always a sad time when schools are facing closure,”

said Vancouver Island North Teachers’ Association (VINTA) Local President Shawn Gough.”Woss Lake used to

be a vibrant school in a family-oriented community,” Gough said. In fact, the school was originally built in 1961

to house 265 students with seven classrooms, a science room, library and a gymnasium. Woss was a

kindergarten to Grade 12 school until 1980 when trustees decided to close high school classes. Those students

were transferred to North Island Secondary School in Port McNeill. “Through changing economic times, and a

restructuring of the industrial base that did not support families remaining in the community, we are faced with

the prospect of losing the heart of the community,” he said. “The Board of Education will have to weigh all their

options, and consult with the community about the future of the school. VINTA hopes that some way can be

found to keep the school open, but we recognize that with only three possible students for next year, keeping

the school open may not be economically viable.”The school closure news comes on the heels of a Western

Forest Products decision last September to consolidate operations in its central island division. As a result of

the consolidation, some employees in Woss received promotions, some were offered transfers and some were

laid off. At that time, Fletcher said one of the biggest challenges facing the North Island is attracting and

retaining families. “It’s a continuous fight and struggle for our communities,” he said.