Friday, February 19, 2010

176 schools closed since 2002 and more on the way

The Tyee, British Columbia's online news magazine and journal of discussion has harvested some interesting statistics from the BC Teachers Federation website, numbers that show that if closing schools were an Olympic event the the BC Liberals would, as they say, own the podium.

Crawford Kilian, has posted a fascinating article on the numeracy and politics of school closures with the rather shocking detail that since 2002, the Liberals have overseen the closure of some 176 schools across the province, with 2010 promising to add rather significantly to that total.

By its nature the Tyee is a sympathetic outlet for the teachers and probably isn't on any BC Liberals facebook pages as a friend, but in his article Kilian provides enough background to at least give parents and school rate payers pause for consideration over the controversial and emotional decisions that communities face.

Using a data base put together by the Teachers Federation, the numbers show that some communities have been harder hit by these changes than others, Prince George in particular is finding that the directive towards school closures is a runaway train it seems.

Prince George closed fifteen schools between 2002 and 2006 and recently announced that another thirteen schools are set to potentially closed if the School District there hopes to reach its budget goals. That could make for a staggering number of 28 should all closures come to pass, a rather dramatic number for Northern British Columbia's largest centre.

Part of his article is a history lesson as well, as he recounts a similar blue print in place in the economically challenging times of the eighties, closures and consolidations were the name of the game then as well, but as the economic times turned around, what ended up happening was that School Districts would have to spend increased amounts of money on infrastructure once the economic times improved, infrastructure that might have already been in place if not for the mandated cutbacks of the time.

The current prospect of closures, comes mainly thanks to a number of funding process changes initiated by the Provincial government, where funding shortfalls can be traced back to such things as the removal of the annual facilities grants, which was an unexpected redirection of the finances that left School Districts scrambling to find the funds to provide for maintenance and repairs to existing schools.

Other changes to the funding process was the reduction or elimination of funds provided to schools through gambling receipts across the province. That has required the schools to redefine some of their after school and extra curricular activities, the upcoming shift to an HST will also provide a financial hit to the School Districts.

Add on the rising cost of salaries, medical coverage, as well as new directives in programs such as all day kindergarten and other assorted expenses most of which stem from provincial government decisions and you get the impression that the Ministry of Education is leaving it's local school districts in a rather poor position from which to try and balance its books.

While the province controls the purse strings and clamors for control of budgets, they still leave it to the local school districts to deliver the bad news and make the program reductions and school closures, based on many parameters that are beyond local control.

While parents and students have many questions for their local school officials when it comes to the changing dynamic of the local system, perhaps some should be saved up for the governments ministers and bureaucrats.

It seems that a lot of the problems with the financing of the education system stem from decisions made far off in Victoria, decisions arrived in an atmosphere that doesn't seem to be taking into account the effect that their financial directives are having on the communities they are directed at.

It might be nice if the Minister and the assorted bureaucrats were to make the journey to those communities and sell their own financial plan, provide us with their vision of a blue print as to where they see education going with the fiscal challenges ahead.

Perhaps seeking out some direct feedback from those most affected by their decisions, might help to provide some understanding as to the stresses that the constantly changing situation is providing for those communities.

As things are at the moment, the debate over education seems like a very one sided discussion session.

No comments: