This week’s reallocation of education funding from the province back to school districts proved once again that local school districts have little or no control of the purse strings. As much as anything, the exercise seemed to be designed by the BC Liberals to force districts to spend money (or not spend money) how the province deemed best. How discouraging for locally elected school trustees to have yet more authority taken away from them.
Since 2002, a year after the BC Liberals were first elected, there have been 241 school closures across BC, with another 16 slated for closure in June 2016.
In Kamloops Stuart Wood, operating for more than 100 years, is one of them. What a proud history it has had. So many children, some now in their twilight years, have benefitted from the learning that happened in its walls, on the playing field, and in the playground. The learning happened in the school, but the benefits have gone out into the community in terms of so many students who went on to give back to Kamloops and beyond.
While the school, and its beautiful windows, stately brick and welcoming classrooms played a part, credit goes to the teachers, principals and staff who put in years of their lives. As in any school.
No school closure is easy, but the hardest must be in a small rural community with only one school. Like Malakwa Elementary, Fort Fraser Elementary, or Bridge Lake Elementary, all of which have been closed since 2002.
In Kamloops, ten schools have closed, and with Stuart Wood, it will be eleven. Credit goes to School District 73 school trustees for working hard to keep schools open in Savona, Heffley Creek, Westwold and Blue River. The closures in the City of Kamloops might be difficult, but in a small village or rural area, they are devastating. The school trustees in Kamloops have made it a core value of their decision making to preserve schools in the rural areas of the district.
The same cannot be said to be the case for the provincial government. The closures of schools across the province has disproportionally affected rural BC. One only has to see that, while Prince George School District has seen 22 school closures since 2002, Vancouver has seen only three, all of which were not full schools but education centres. There are schools in Vancouver with extra space (by some called under-utilized), but the BC Liberals until now have shown deference to the Vancouver School District. School closures in Vancouver are talked about, but they never happen. The province hasn’t put the screws on the Vancouver School District because, as far as I can tell, Vancouver is large enough to push back.
One could argue, the closures of schools across the province is only because of demographics. But that is not the case. Rooted in the closures is a lack of policy of how rural BC should be served.
Scotland, though not as large as BC, has a similar problem of a few large urban centres, of Edinburgh and Glasglow, and not much else. Like BC, there are fewer children overall, and fewer people living in rural areas. The Scottish parliament considers rural school closure of so much concern that it has a separate policy for those closures. Each alternative must be assessed based on the likely educational benefits of the closures, the effect of travel on the students and the impact on the rural community where the school might be closed.
Perhaps educational benefits are considered when BC rural schools are closed, but, I’m not certain of that. For example when I look at the explanation on School District 91, Nechako Lakes, on their explanation of the closure of Fraser Lakes School, there is a lot of information on budgets and dollar savings, but there is no information on anticipated bus travel times or impacts on kids being able to play or not play in school sports teams.
The Scottish government has clear guidelines and policies for rural school closures. The Scottish government takes rural schools seriously, and is willing to take ownership of what the impacts are when rural schools close.
I can find no evidence that the BC Provincial government has similar policies that address different impacts of school closures in rural BC. All I can see is that if you live in Vancouver, chances are you won’t have to worry about a school closure anytime soon.
Thank you Stuart Wood for 100 plus good years and thank you School District 73 school trustees for making the difficult decision to serve the rural parts of the district.
— Nancy Bepple is a recovering politician and local news junkie. She expects she will never recover from her love of the banjo.