High school flap intensifies
A new round of infighting over class offerings and programming at the new $13 million Pemberton Secondary School and the yet-to-be-completed Whistler high school could cost the Whistler facility over $1 million in provincial grants and municipal partnership funding.
School Board trustees from the Howe Sound School District received a letter from Whistler Mayor Ted Nebbeling this week outlining his concerns about the latest round of school bickering, which has Whistler trustees worried, parents confused and the opening of the new Whistler Secondary as a full Grade 7-12 high school in jeopardy.
The Resort Municipality of Whistler has committed $722,000 to the Whistler school, under construction across Highway 99 from Alpine Meadows. In his letter, Nebbeling says the municipality committed partnership funds to a full Grade 7-12 high school to enhance community space in the school and possibly a theatre. If the facility is not a full high school, the municipality will try to recover its funding.
"Should you choose not to (support a 7-12 facility) then we will have no choice than to seek full financial restitution," Nebbeling wrote.
For 36 months, school planners, Ministry of Education officials and two successive district superintendents have committed to opening a full high school serving Grades 7-12 in the fall of 1996. At the Jan. 17 meeting of the Howe Sound School Board as trustees will vote on a motion which would keep Whistler’s Grade 11 and 12 students at Pemberton Secondary even after the new Whistler Secondary opens its doors.
Should the motion pass, a further $257,000 worth of funding will be pulled from the Whistler Secondary. Small Schools Grants are handed out to secondary schools with small student populations by the Ministry of Education. Designed to allow school administrators a wider variety of course offerings for students, the Small School Grants are only delivered to full secondary schools, that is, those which have Grades 11 and 12. Pemberton Secondary already receives a Small Schools Grant.
Course offerings and program selection seem to be at the heart of the debate as some parents say they feel making two small schools out of the PSS student body will limit the course selection at either facility. School district projections have the Whistler Secondary opening at around the 300-student level while PSS would be home to between 220 and 240 students.
The pressure has built to a point where PSS students are being told by some teachers they will not be able to graduate and go to university should they attend high school in Whistler, says Whistler trustee Bonnie Munster.
Munster says the Whistler Secondary has always been planned as a Grade 7-12 facility and to change direction now would send a bad message to the Ministry of Education, potential private-sector partners and the 27 per cent of Whistler’s second homeowners who indicated they would move here when the high school opens. She adds communities should be banding together to plan for a $750,000 budget cut facing the Howe Sound District and government plans to amalgamate school boards across B.C.
"I have every confidence in the board that they will not lose focus during these stressful times and that we will continue achieving as much as we can for our students," Munster says.
A group of Whistler parents, lead by Drew Meredith, has joined forces with a group of Pemberton parents to lobby the board to keep Whistler’s Grade 11 and 12 students in Pemberton next fall.
To deal with the dilemma, Program Implementation Committees were set up for both Pemberton and Whistler secondary schools. The Whistler committee, chaired by Munster, came up with three options while the Pemberton group came up with one — the status quo.
Howe Sound District Superintendent Doug Courtice told parents and trustees at a Dec. 13 board meeting "the continued direction of the board has been that Pemberton Secondary School would be Grades 8-12 and the Secondary School at Whistler would be Grades 7-12, as of September 1996."
Courtice indicated he would look at hiring 1.75 teachers at each school to allow for an expanded course offering. Both principals have assured him "both schools next year will be offering quality education equal to that which is presently offered."
According to Munster, course selection shouldn’t be used as a political tool and parents, trustees, students and teachers should be working together to create high schools in Pemberton and Whistler which complement each other.
"The board has not changed our direction," Munster says. "Our concerns are getting the most we can for students throughout the district."