The parents who attended a recent School District 43 board meeting left with a surreal feeling.
In the weeks and days leading to the meeting on which the crucial vote on the first land-sale from an operational school would take place, dozens of parent volunteers were gathering signatures for petition, writing letters to officials and talking to other parents at School District 43 schools about the consequences of the proposed land sales.
As a result, over 1,000 signatures were gathered under a petition to stop the land sale, and numerous letters were sent to school board trustees, arguing for the preservation of open spaces as a valuable resource for present and future children.
During the voting process, none of the school board trustees mentioned any of this. No discussion occurred. The vote was unanimous and quick. Sell Parkland land, proceed with the plan.
It almost seemed as if the school board was in a hurry to sell the school land.
Maybe we can better understand the motives behind it if we look at the back story, and the changes of the rules that happened over the last few years, with respect to school land sales.
In 2008, then-premier Gordon Campbell introduced a requirement that boards would need government permission before they could sell property. Since that time, school trustees had been lobbying for the right to sell school land, until the new premier Christy Clark gave the school boards the authority to sell surplus land at their discretion.
Given that the rules of land disposal have changed with the current and the previous premiers, it's not unreasonable to expect that the newly gained privileges of the school boards will not last after the 2014 elections.
In a recent letter to school boards about land disposal, the B.C. Minister of Education stresses the very same point: all land-sale projects should be completed in 2013-14.
In this light, it's understandable that the School District 43 board is in a hurry to take advantage of its authority over the land sales, before the new elections take it away. But what does this lead to, in terms of long-term effect on the community?
The rush to sell the land quickly leads to unforgivable shortcuts in the preparation, analysis and public feedback process.
Here are a few examples. The school board has hired a private contractor, Trillium Consultantcy, to analyze the school land and identify the most suitable portions for a potential sale.
The "report" turned out to be a handful of PowerPoint slides with a few bullet points each, focusing on one thing only: how easy it will be to sell a particular piece of land.
No community usage analysis, no report on the number of children using the area during school hours, no traffic and parking analysis - nothing that actually matters to the community.
The public feedback gathering stage of the project, as organized by the school board, was so short, that only five per cent of the parents of one of the schools involved, Parkland Elementary, responded to the feedback-gathering form.
The other school, Porter Street Elementary, responded in an organized manner only because of extraordinary efforts of its PAC members and parent volunteers.
The fact that the Porter Street Elementary playground is also a valuable community resource, where kids from the whole neighbourhood play after school, was never mentioned in any of the preliminary documents.
The feedback from the wider community, gathered by volunteers beyond the two schools directly involved, including petitions, letters, online media feedback - was never even mentioned, despite hundreds of people who participated in the feedback.
The public trust that enables the school board trustees to run the schools in the Tri-Cities does not mean a licence to act without prudence and to disregard public opinion. We want our trustees to act wisely and consider long-term implications of such things as land planning.
School land is a public asset, and should be treated with full respect to the community's needs. We have future generations of children to think of.
Vlad Orlenko Coquitlam