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New school funding plan heads to mediation

The Howe Sound school district is asking that the standoff over its school site acquisition plan be resolved through mediation.

The Howe Sound school district is asking that the standoff over its school site acquisition plan be resolved through mediation.

The Resort Municipality of Whistler, District of Squamish, Village of Pemberton and Squamish-Lillooet Regional District have all rejected the proposal, which is supposed to determine the number and sites of new schools that will be required as a result of expected growth in the region.

The plan is aimed at raising money for the new schools through a levy charge on new residential developments.

After previous consultations with the four local governments, the school district estimated that there will be more than 3,000 new residential units – and about 1,300 school age children – in the area over the next 10 years.

According to School Board No. 48 documents obtained by Pique Newsmagazine last week, none of these children will be able to attend existing schools, thus creating the need for new facilities.

The school district has identified four new sites, including ones in Whistler, Squamish and Furry Creek, that will cost more than $5.5-million to acquire.

But all four local governments have expressed concern about the methods the school district used in determining the land acquisition costs as well as how, when and where the funds will be used.

For example, the RMOW has already secured a site for a new elementary school, which is ready for construction in the Spring Creek subdivision, without funds from the school district.

In a letter from Whistler Mayor Hugh O’Reilly to the school board trustees, he states that it would be "inappropriate" to establish a school site acquisition charge here because the municipality has already made its own plans.

Meanwhile, the District of Squamish expects it will need more schools than those estimated by the school district.

The district says it needs three elementary schools and the same number of secondary schools to accommodate future growth. These numbers are based on Squamish’s official community plan.

The Village of Pemberton has concluded that increasing costs will hinder potential development and limit the village’s growth. The village has also expressed concern that money collected within its boundaries will be spent elsewhere.

The SLRD, which governs rural areas of the region, is questioning the school district’s plan in those areas as well as the appropriateness of its site selection.

The school district’s next step is to advise the Ministry of Education of the need for dispute resolution.

If approved, the ministry will then appoint a mediator who will try to assist the parties in reaching an agreement. The school district will then amend its plan to reflect the revised agreement.

If an agreement is not reached, the mediator will make recommendations that will then be forwarded to the ministries of education and municipal affairs.