The huge issue of school closures (Beaverdell and Midway Elementary schools) is facing the people of the West Boundary. The Board does have some valid points supporting these closures; school populations are declining as are the funds required to support the local schools. However, there are other funding sources available; meaningful financial assistance to support the continued operation of these and other schools throughout BC should be forthcoming from the Provincial Government and/or Federal Governments.
School Boards alone cannot resolve the funding shortfall issues. Neither can local parental groups regardless of their best intentions and strong efforts undertaken to do so.
The Provincial Government, especially and significantly the current Liberal Government, has repeatedly stated their commitment to help rural BC weather the economic downturn especially those communities largely dependent on the forest industry.
To this end they have supported a seemingly never-ending host of “Transition” Studies for many small communities throughout BC. Midway has such a study ($50,000.00 worth) sitting on the shelf in their council office. Additionally, there have been and continue to be a plethora of seminars, speakers and workshops concerning economic development for these communities----so far all to very little avail.
While such studies and workshops etc. are, or at least may be, helpful, too often they overlook the critical, foundational issues. These are the maintenance and retention of the basic infrastructure elements necessary to and for, the successful, meaningful survival and well being of small, rural communities. The main elements include:
- Local schools;
- Community facilities including: community hall, library, restaurant, gas station, grocery store, fire hall, museum, care facilities (including a health unit and at least proximity to a hospital), bank or credit union, hardware store, churches, motel/hotel;
- Doctor and dentist supported by a health unit;
- Ambulance services;
The loss of any of these elements, especially local schools, weakens and hence threatens, the future well-being and survival of any small community anywhere in BC. Often the loss of the local school(s) begins a never-ending downward spiral for the affected community.
It is nearly impossible to attract any young families with children to a community that does not have a school.
The Southern Interior Beetle Action Coalition (SIBAC) recently issued a report (October 26, 2009) that includes several recommendations relative to the survival of rural communities. Recommendation 23 states: “The Provincial Government should work with Rural Communities to protect services and assets.”
It goes on to say:
“Rural Communities are facing a period of distress in which key community services will likely play an important role in community transition and long-term community sustainability. The provincial government needs to work with communities on sustaining key existing assets such as schools, hospitals, recreational facilities and regional offices so that communities may work towards revitalizing their local economies without the additional implication of incremental degradation of the quality of the communities’ amenities.”
The School Board should use and build on this recommendation and work with both the Provincial and Federal Governments to ensure that adequate funding is made available to fulfill SIBAC’s recommendations. The West Boundary communities of Beaverdell and Midway are a good place to start.
Over five million dollars are committed to develop and implement Fire Protection projects for selected communities in the RDKB with projects extending from Big White to the East Kootenays. There is strong indication that this amount will increase to well over six million dollars.
While fire protection is certainly a worthwhile endeavor, the local people should have some say as to what is more important to them---i.e schools or fire protection. Obviously the Government does have money—what they spend it on is the relevant question.