Bedard opposes tax exemption for school district’s property

Mayoral candidate says no to a tax exemption for School District 52 because of empty school buildings.

City councillor and mayoral candidate, Kathy Bedard, says that the school district shouldn’t be given a break on paying taxes on a rental property when it has empty school buildings littered around town that they could be using instead.

What would have been a quick change to a bylaw to include the districts property in the list of those excused from paying property taxes such as churches and community organizations, took an unexpected turn when Bedard decided to break ranks with the rest of the council and argue against the school board’s inclusion.

“I’m going to vote against the addition of this exemption for School District 52 because I believe that they could be using one of the schools that are available. Why should we again take the downloading from a government organization and pay their taxes for them,” Bedard told council.

Prince Rupert has several abandoned schools all over town that have had to be shut down after the city’s population decreased. Many have been laying vacant for several years, but School District had to close another one as recently as this year when Westview Elementary was forced to close its doors for the last time.

The school board has been trying find a solution for the problem and is seeking permission from the Provincial Government to sell the Westview, Kanata and Seal Cove elementary schools  and if one can be sold, the money could be used to demolish the other two buildings. The school board only learned that they could do this last month at the Union of BC Municipalities conference.

But in Bedard’s opinion it seems, in the meantime the school board should be finding uses for them instead of paying for rental properties and leaving the empty buildings to become eyesores.

“We’re closing schools down in this community and once again the community has to bear the cost in regards to vandalism and the look of our community.

The property in question is the downtown location of the Pacific Coast School, a alternative learning centre for students who didn’t do very well in the traditional high school setting. The school provides a drastically different teaching model and courses to help their students complete their high school educations.

“This isn’t about the value of the school because I truly believe they do good work there. What I have a difficulty with is one government agency paying the taxes for another one. I would prefer that  the school district, for this year at least, pay the $7,800 in taxes to the community,” says Bedard.

But paying over $7000 in taxes just to be open will take a sizeable portion out of the school’s operating funds, which would otherwise be used to help educate the struggling high school students who go there. Asking for a tax exemption for Pacific Coast is not new either since the city has granted it one in previous years.

“That’s a huge chunk that would have come right out of the classroom if we had to come up with it,” says school board chair, Tina Last.

Last says there are two main reasons why the school board decided to put the alternative school in one of the empty buildings. The first is that the school district doesn’t think it makes much sense to reopen an entire school building to teach only 100 students.

The second reason is that the students who go to Pacific Coast for their own reasons did not succeed in the regular high school system. The point of the Pacific Coast School is to provide a different teaching model than regular high school, and says it has been proven that having it in a non-traditional setting like a storefront is crucial to the program’s success.

“It was never an option but it was discussed at the board table. But we were quickly reminded that part of the success of this program is that it’s not in a school.

The council did vote to give Pacific Coast School its tax exemption with councillor Bedard as the lone dissenter.