Released education report garners response

By on March 20, 2018

Now that the Rural Education Report has finally been released, local decision makers have something to say about it.

School District 53 chair Rob Zandee said he read the report spearheaded by Boundary-Similkameen MLA Linda Larson, who sought input on how to improve rural education.

“We had just gone through a very controversial school closing process and the topic of education in rural communities was at the forefront for our board and local communities,” Zandee said.

He referred to the planned closure of Osoyoos Secondary School due to budget constraints. But backlash from the community and extra funding in the final hour staved off the closure.

The subsequent report outlines key findings and recommendations to improve the delivery of education in rural communities. But the document was kept under wraps by the new NDP government, which received a lot of pressure to release it.

“We have been waiting to see the report and its release honours the time spent to give input and serves to make the contents, conclusions and recommendations transparent,” Zandee said.

He noted that many boards of education in BC have been working to bring attention to the challenges of declining enrolment and equity of access to programs for students. “The findings in this report support the need for the ministry to work with boards to consider strategies that close the urban-rural gap,” Zandee said.

One key finding in the report states that rural students don’t have the same level of access to programs as their urban counterparts.

This is what concerns Osoyoos town councillor Mike Campol, who said rural schools have different demands than urban schools. For example, he believes there should be more educational focus on agriculture in this community.

“Rural schools with unique industry would benefit from elective courses that relate to that industry. This could potentially draw new families to the area as well. Agriculture would make sense for this area.”

Although Campol thinks the report is a great document, it’s what the government does with it now that counts. He sincerely hopes it is not shelved and forgotten.

But keeping the report in the closet for so long still sticks in his craw.

“They (government) had to be pushed to release it.”

Campol recalled how Minister of Education Rob Fleming looked like a “knight in shining armour” when he came to Osoyoos to support the fight to keep the high school open. Then his government kept the report hidden from the public, Campol said.

But even more upsetting for him was how the school closure process was handled in Osoyoos in 2016. “It was incredibly flawed,” he said, noting that residents were pitted against each other, school trustees were protecting their own communities, and the MLA (Larson) wasn’t willing to step in to ensure Osoyoos was being heard.

But Campol did acknowledge that trustees were thrown into a tough position with no direction from government.

In future, he’s hoping there will be more engagement with local government before schools are on the chopping block.

Brenda Dorosz, who spearheaded the save- the-school campaign, said the Rural Education Report held no surprises for her.

“A lot of time and money put into a report to find out what we already know.”

Dorosz said she would have liked to have seen something on the “devastation facing smaller communities,” noting that schools are an essential need in rural areas.

Zandee said the Ministry of Education is reviewing the current model for how school districts are funded. The timeline is to complete this process by the fall of 2018 and to fund districts with the new funding model for the 2019-2020 school year.

The current funding formula is largely based on per-pupil funding.

“Rural schools with low and/or declining enrolment incur higher costs for offering full programs and for maintaining facilities,” Zandee said.

So the report is timely in that it supports the need for the government to think about alternate ways to fund districts and in particular, districts in rural settings, he pointed out.

“We hope this report will provide opportunities for dialogue around rural education in our district,” Zandee said.

“We are already considering ways to be creative in offering programming. In our own rural setting, we have to be creative.”

LYONEL DOHERTY

Special to the Chronicle

 

 

 

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