PORT HARDY—Members of the board of trustees of School District 85 were unanimous in their desire to see Quatsino School re-opened for the first time since it was closed in 2008 due to low enrolment.
But when it came time for a vote, they were similarly unanimous in deciding the time is not yet right.
“It was great to see the sense of community and the condition of the school,” said Jeff Field, a Port Hardy trustee who visited the community recently and met with residents along with SD85 staff and other trustees. “However, my concern is with the enrolment, just being at four, as a K-7 school. If there were more, it would be an easy decision.”
John Martin, the District’s secretary-treasurer, also visited the remote West Coast village of Quatsino to gather registration and determine the viability of the school. He presented the board with a chart during its regular monthly meeting June 10 that indicated a promising future for the village, but one that has not yet arrived.
“I wanted to get a feel for the kind of registration potential at the school,” Martin said. “It was quite surprising to see the number of very young children and babies, and that certainly bodes well for the school and its future.
“We received six registrations at the school and a subsequent one was emailed to me. But some of them went up to grade 12. Through grade 7, there were only four (registrations).”
Martin presented the board with a chart following potential enrolment in Quatsino, year-over-year, for the coming decade. While the next three years show little change, he was optimistic about the village’s long-term potential to once again have its own elementary school in operation.
“In 2016 the picture begins to change,” Martin said. At that point we show six students in K-7, then seven the following year. In 2018, if all the current families stay, there will be 11 students in K-7. Certainly there’s a lot of promise that, within 5-6 years, by any measure, the school should re-open. However, today I’m not prepared to recommend opening the school.”
The board concurred, though Field’s motion called for the board to convene a special meeting to reconsider the school’s re-opening should enrolment increase. Trustee Werner Manke of Port McNeill, who seconded the motion, noted the current enrolment of four students mirrors the number of K-7 students in Quatsino at the time of the school’s closure.
“The thought of reopening Quatsino School would be really exciting for me,” Manke said. “I know the school, and the community and its school have quite a bit of history worth preserving. To me, it looks like the population is quite promising, but I’m just not sure it’s at this point.”
Currently, students from Quatsino attending public school on the North Island must take a water taxi or another boat to Coal Harbour, then drive on to Port Hardy without the benefit of a waiting school bus.
The village’s elementary school was closed as part of a series of closures forced on School District 85 over the past seven years by a combination of shrinking enrolments and shrinking budgets. They have included both remote schools like Quatsino and Echo Bay, and elementary schools in larger communities like Robert Scott in Port Hardy and Cheslakees Elementary in Port McNeill, which has been converted to a kindergarten and early-learning centre.
Woss Lake Elementary has twice been up for discussion for closure — most recently in early 2012 — but its enrolment has held just above the critical cutoff point.
Any potential re-opening of Quatsino School will require an appropriate multi-grade teacher and administrator. It will also require an enrolment that justifies the opening at a time when, as Field noted, the district is still in deep economic straits.
“We are in funding protection,” Field reminded the board during last week’s discussions. “Because we’re in funding protection we have to come up with that funding out of the existing budget. So, as well as the educational factor, there is the financial factor to consider. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that.”
Last week’s meeting was attended by four adult residents of Quatsino and one remarkably well-tempered baby. None of them spoke during the meeting and they left immediately after the vote for the long trip home. But that one infant, potentially the face of the future of Quatsino School, graced the board with a large smile as she was carried from the chambers.