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OP/ED: School closure blame lies with provincial government not local boards

As I drove home from the emotionally charged public meeting about the possible closure of the Beaverdell Elementary School, CBC radio was my company. The program was about the shift in our historical culture when the responsibility for caring for the population shifted from church to state. For a large part of history, churches provided education, as well as spiritual, physical and emotional care. At some a point in time that focus shifted and people turned to the state to provide some of these important institutions. So it made me wonder where exactly are we failing our communities – at the local board levels or at the higher level of state that we have entrusted with taking care of our needs.

With all the anger and emotion present in Beaverdell, now and probably over the next few weeks while they wait in limbo on a decision from the School District 51 board of trustees, is it just the board that is at fault in putting the community in turmoil? Michael Strukoff, superintendent of schools, made an interesting point in his opening remarks. He said that the Liberal government, when it took over two elections back, made some decisions that completely overhauled the way that schools are funded.

Make no mistake, the shift in the funding formulas happened in all sorts of services at that time. The government decided to make funding what they call “performance based.” In the case of schools, Strukoff said that meant they received per student funding and lost the funding that came directly to a school. So they no longer were funded for schools, they were just funded for students. And that is the crux of the dilemma today – there are not that many students in Beaverdell despite the school being what many people described at the meeting as the heart of the community.

What performance based funding is supposed to do is to encourage better operations through incentive based money. In other words, if you don’t provide a good service, people will take their funding and move. Since the money follows the person, if a service is not up to snuff it is reflected in the loss of funding to the service.

This myopic viewpoint doesn’t account for small, rural communities and their need to maintain some level of basic services for the good of the community – an argument not well grounded in economics. It doesn’t account for the fact that the loss of students is not necessarily related to lack of quality in the service. Granted, the province has recognized the need to provide some additional support to the small schools, but the board is anticipating that this funding will also be lost in the near future leaving the school underfunded.

So, yes, I am feeling a great deal of sympathy for a board of education that has to deal with the dollar crunch with no easy solutions – no one is going to be happy at the end of it all.

The board has been active in protesting the funding formulas to the province, but perhaps the communities of the Boundary need to start being more vocal as well. In Vancouver there have been a series of protests about the lack of funding by parents and partners in education who strongly feel the need to address the root cause of the shortfalls in funding. Sooner or later it will hit every school in region as enrollment continues to drop. It’s not just the board’s responsibility to protest – someone needs to be pressuring the source of the money too.

If you think that doesn’t mean you then think again. Patient based funding has arrived for health care. Just think what that means for the Boundary Hospital....