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School priorities must face realities Govt spending at odds with School board wish list By Chris Woodall Parents can put too much emphasis on a school board's construction wish list when they see government funding start lower-ranked projects ahead of higher-ranked ones. The result are rumours that one school's "priority" is being bumped in favour of another. They shouldn't be concerned, says Howe Sound school board superintendent Mike Fitzpatrick. The school board's priority of school construction lists the order it would like to see new schools built, added to or substantially renovated. But it is nothing more than a wish list, says Fitzpatrick. Reality is that if the provincial government is not interested in funding a new school at the top of the Howe Sound school board list, but will hand out money for a new roof, the school needing the roof but sitting well down the list will be the project that goes ahead. "Parents have a hard time with that, but that it's a wish list is true," Fitzpatrick says. "They have a different ranking system," explains Fitzpatrick of how the province sees things. If safety is a bigger priority for the provincial government than additional classrooms, it will give $1 million to fix a school's broken ventilation system rather than hand out $4 million for a new school, the superintendent says. And while Howe Sound school board, its staff, parents and students focus on the health of its schools, the province has to look at doling out money across the whole province. If an economic downturn happens, especially with a loss of revenues from the slowdown in the forestry industry, the province will have less money to put toward new schools. "In most cases it's a logical process," to work down the list of priorities, Fitzpatrick says, "but it can take a downturn or upturn to slow down or speed up the process." There's also the problem of weighing what to do in the short term versus the long term. "If we put all our funding toward a replacement school that may be our No. 2 priority, even if we got all the money to replace it, it would take four years before we could use it," while the school is built, Fitzpatrick says. Signal Hill Elementary School in Pemberton is an example. It sits in second place on the board's priority list. "Last year the government told us to forget it," as far as replacing it right away goes, Fitzpatrick says. But the province was willing to cough up money to replace heating and ventilation to keep the school going for a while longer. Meanwhile, any creative schemes the school board can develop to scrape up its own pile of money may help the situation. The board, for example, could sell pieces of property it owns to raise funds, but with that come risks that the board may need that land some time in the future if an area's demographic shifts. "There are no easy solutions," Fitzpatrick says of the multi-jurisdictional juggling act. Meanwhile Whistler and Pemberton will see more portables or more buses for its current schools, rather than new facilities. "The government always gives you more money for roofing, buses or portables. It's seen as a way to fix the situation," Fitzpatrick says. The Howe Sound "wish list" of top-10 priorities is as follows: 1) Brackendale Jr. Elementary: addition and major renovation; 2) Signal Hill Elementary: replacement; 3) Whistler Area Elementary: new school; 4) Whistler Secondary: addition; 5) Myrtle Philip Community School: addition; 6) Garibaldi Highlands Elementary: addition; 7) Signal Hill Elementary: heating and ventilation; 8) Howe Sound Secondary: Phase 2 additions, renovations; 9) Pemberton bus and maintenance areas: replacement; 10) Roofing Program.

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