The Vancouver School Board wrapped up its public consultation meetings last week, which stemmed from the district's review of its schools and services called Our Schools, Our Programs, Our Future.
The review came out of the 2010 school closure debate and examined subjects like the need for seismic upgrades at old schools, the demand for different schools and programs and declining enrolment-there are the equivalent of 340 empty classrooms in the district.
Topics for discussion at three public consultation meetings held May 8, 9 and 15 ranged from how to "repurpose" under-enrolled schools to whether the VSB should lease non-school sites to generate revenue. The VSB also posted a 20-question survey online to solicit feedback.
Few people attended the first two meetings. Eleven showed up at Kitsilano and 12 at Eric Hamber. The final meeting on May 15 at Britannia attracted slightly more interest with 54 in the audience.
Attendance paled in comparison to the numbers who showed up at meetings two years ago when the district considered shutting down five East Side elementary schools. Hundreds from each neighbourhood campaigned against the closure of their local school.
VSB spokesman Kurt Heinrich said it's difficult to capture people's attention when specific proposals haven't been tabled, but he noted participation in the VSB's online survey was high.
"The big thing we came out of this with was a renewed appreciation around the value of online consultation because we had over 1,000 people fill out the survey with information and share their thoughts that way," he said.
"Part of the challenge is we're not talking necessarily in concrete terms about things. We're trying to get ahead of the ball and speak more generally about the idea of repurposing [schools] and other issues around that. When you speak generally, you don't necessarily get these massive turnouts. By the same token, the fact that 1,000 people took time to go online, have a look at the report, and fill out the survey, shows that if you make it easy enough for people, they'll get engaged."
The online survey is available on the VSB's website until month's end. Questions range from basic ones such as what neighbourhood do you live in and how many kids do you have in school to what types of use would you see as appropriate for repurposed school spaces.
The latter question lists nine options: commercial space, community use, day care (non board-funded centres), early childhood education sites, rental housing, market housing, community centres, senior centres and international student programs. Respondents can mark strongly agree or disagree, somewhat agree or disagree or mark neutral for each suggestion.
The survey also allows for comments to be typed in after some of the questions.
District staff will collate and analyze responses from the meetings and from the survey. The school board will get a report by the end of June.
"The board will decide next steps," Heinrich said.
It's unclear when the Labour Relations Board will rule on the B.C. Public School Employers' Association's application to have teachers' withdrawal from extracurricular activities declared an illegal strike.
Tuesday's hearing date was cancelled due to the illness of one of the lawyers for the employer. The hearing was expected to continue May 23 and possibly May 24.