School board calls for public release of rural education report done by MLA Larson

By on March 6, 2018

The local school board is calling for the release of a report on rural education done by MLA Linda Larson when the B.C. Liberals were in power. Both school board chair Rob Zandee and education advocate Brenda Dorosz are questioning why Education Minister Rob Fleming (second from right) has not allowed the report to be released when he was an outspoken supporter of rural schools in his previous role as NDP education critic. (Richard McGuire file photo)

Local school board chair Rob Zandee is in good company scratching his head wondering why the NDP government hasn’t released the Rural Education Report.

As a result, School District 53, like others in the province, is writing B.C. Premier John Horgan and the Ministry of Education to release the report, which looks at rural education and how it can be improved.

Zandee said the report, headed by Boundary-Similkameen MLA Linda Larson, is now considered a document of “cabinet privilege” and as such is not being released.

“No boards in the province have seen this document yet, even though it was created as a public document with public funds,” Zandee said.

Osoyoos town councillor Mike Campol, who goes to school board meetings as the town’s representative, raised the issue with Zandee during the question and answer period at the end of the meeting.

Campol said the Town of Osoyoos is very engaged now in the issue of funding rural education.

“To withhold a report that important to us that really speaks to the future of our school in the current climate doesn’t make sense to us,” said Campol. “This was a taxpayer funded study that our MLA said should be released.”

Campol said he’s pleased the school district sent a letter to Premier John Horgan on Friday calling for the release of the report. Osoyoos town council agreed Monday to send a similar letter.

Zandee noted that many people travelled through some particularly inclement weather last year to provide input.

“I am aware that there has been a Freedom of Information request for this document and it was returned with all pages redacted.”

When contacted, Larson said she gave the document to the NDP government.

“The education minister is the one who has to release it.”

Larson told the media that the report should be released to the public, noting there is nothing in the document that should cause any grief to the government.

But a Ministry of Education spokesman said the report was not finalized by the previous government.

He noted the findings of the report would become part of a broader funding model review. This will lead to recommendations from an independent panel that will help with allocation of funding.

“The findings will be released on our website shortly,” the spokesman said.

But keeping the findings secret for now concerns Brenda Dorosz from Osoyoos, who spearheaded the campaign to save Osoyoos Secondary School (OSS) from closure in 2016.

“I’m quite concerned because this is taxpayers’ dollars. It’s concerning to me as a resident in the rural area who put a lot of input into it (the report).”

Dorosz is questioning why Education Minister Rob Fleming is not releasing it when he was an outspoken supporter of rural schools and the campaign to save OSS.

Zandee said the BCSTA (British Columbia School Trustees Association) has been advocating for the release of the document, but to no avail.

“The ministry has stated that they will be using what they feel are relevant sections to form their decisions, but since we can’t see the document, there is absolutely no accountability on this point.”

Zandee said he finds it very interesting since the current minister (Fleming) was very adamant in his cross-province tour prior to the election that this document should be a priority.

The chair said School District 53 is concerned about many things, particularly what the document says about the state of rural education. And what are the recommendations, he asks.

“It’s being hidden from the people that it was intended to assist, with no accountability as to the veracity of any comments or decisions.”

The board has directed a letter be written to the premier requesting that he release the report so that it can serve as a basis for discussion going forward.

“I would encourage our local municipalities to write similar letters in an effort to have proper dialogue about this issue that was deemed to be an immediate priority not that long ago,” Zandee said.


Special to the Times

(With files from Richard McGuire)


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