Quesnel school board trustees voted 6-1 in favour of closing Parkland, Ecole Baker and Kersley elementary schools at last week’s board meeting at Correlieu Secondary School.
Around 100 residents came out to hear the fate of their schools along with Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) B.C. President, Paul Faoro who was in opposition of closing the schools.
“These schools are more than schools,” Faoro said.
“They are essential to a strong and healthy community, but because Premier Clark and her government have other priorities other than ensuring public education remains strong and vital we’re here tonight to save three public schools.”
He added the way the provincial government has treated the public school system over the last 15 years has been “a disgrace.”
“This current Christy Clark government has done nothing to make the public education system stronger and I’d say this government doesn’t care about regular folks like the folks in this room,” he said.
Faoro had six requests for the trustees: submit a needs-based budget to the Minister of Education, circulate the needs-based budget to the residents of Quesnel, set up an emergency meeting with the province, demand MLA Coralee Oaks to obtain proper funding to keep all schools operating and to think about the oath they took when they were elected.
Trustee Julie-Anne Runge was the only trustee to be opposed to the decision and said they need to close facilities but they did not find the correct decision.
“I would like to thank the speakers who provided us with their individual insight and treated the process with respect,” Runge said.
“My decision has not been made by how the board has been treated and even bullied by various individuals, but rather on the long term ramification of this district.”
Trustee Gloria Jackson said they cannot maintain the number of facilities and continue to provide the best education for the students.
“Students will lose out as we won’t be able to offer the programs and resources to them if our staff is so spread out to so many facilities,” Jackson said.
Board chairperson, Tony Goulet said the board looked at the whole district when making the decision and how they could use the funds they have to educate in the best way.
He added the situation they are in now is going to get worse.
“March 15 the Ministry of Education announced our operating grant and we’re going to be looking for almost $634,000 coming up in the 2016-17 budget process,” Goulet said.
“We’re going to be looking at even more than that when we take into account other costs the government has been downloading on the Board time after time, day after day.”
Mayor Bob Simpson said it was a tough decision for the trustees.
“I think the school trustees are caught between a rock and a hard place and they’re the ones that are forced to make the untenable decisions about closing schools,” Simpson said.
Premier Clark weighed in on the closure of schools throughout the province.
“In Surrey they close schools all the time, but in a rural community like Quesnel it’s a different story because schools close as the community shrinks,” Clark said.
“Enrolment here has dropped by a third and funding on a per student basis is now about $2,500 higher per student than it is in Vancouver or Surrey. We know we have to spend more in rural communities to keep schools open. The problem is not a lack of funding, it’s a lack of kids.”
She added that herself and Oakes’ job is to find more ways to grow the economy.
“We find more opportunities for wood export, markets and support innovations then more families will come,” Clark said.
“When more families come there are more kids and that’s the answer ultimately that we need to get to. We need to create economic certainty so rural communities stop shrinking.”
Effective Sept. 7, 2016 students of the closed schools will attend the following schools: Ecole Baker English program students will attend Voyageur elementary, Ecole Baker French Immersion program students will attend Red Bluff Lhtako elementary, Parkland elementary students will attend Barlow Creek elementary and Kersley elementary students will attend Lakeview elementary
For more on the premier’s visit, see Friday’s Observer.