Is rural education once again
in the provincial crosshairs?

Andrew Stuckey
Publisher


There’s no need yet to dust off the pitchforks, pruning hooks and ploughshares — but keep them handy, just in case.

Rural British Columbia might soon have to take up arms — again — to protect its education assets.

The worry comes following at least two recent actions on the part of the provincial NDP government. Rural communities would do well to start paying attention.

The first was the Education Ministry’s delay in releasing a report on enhancing and protecting education assets and culture outside of the Lower Mainland, Victoria and Kelowna conducted by the former Liberal government.

You’ll recall Boundary-Similkameen MLA Linda Larson spearheaded that effort in late-2016 and early-2017 as part of her duties as Parliamentary Secretary for Rural Education.

“Over the next several months, I will be traveling to each region within the province, listening to families and educators and working on a new strategy for rural education that will help find long-term solutions for the unique challenges rural communities and schools face every day,” is how Ms. Larson described that effort.

The report was interrupted by a provincial election and somewhere along the way it got shuffled into a drawer.

It wasn’t, however, forgotten by the rural school districts.

Several, including the Okanagan Similkameen School District (SD53), queried the elected NDP government about its status. When nothing came of their enquiries, SD53 followed up with a Freedom of Information (FOI) request.

What the district received in reply was a substantially redacted (blacked out) document in response.

It was, in the paraphrased words of Board Chair Rob Zandee, “nothing more than a headline and row upon row of black marker.”

According to the Ministry, “the records requested were withheld in their entirety pursuant to section(s) 12 (Cabinet and local public body confidences), 13 (Policy advice or recommendations), and 17 (Disclosure harmful to the financial or economic interests of a public body) of FOIPPA.”

Now, following a second round of letters demanding the report’s release, the province appears to be reluctantly acquiescing.

It is promising to release “the input from the rural education engagement process” to the education ministry’s website “within the coming weeks.”

What the province is not overtly promising to do is release any conclusions, analysis or recommendations that resulted from all of that engagement process.

In fact, the ministry is now engaged in its own education funding study and plans to use the information gathered by Ms. Larson and her team “as a resource for the comprehensive K-12 education review that we have ongoing right now.”

That’s what Education Minister Rob Fleming — yes, the same Rob Fleming who championed the Osoyoos cause when the NDP was in opposition — reportedly said this morning when asked about the report’s future.

What he said next is even more disturbing.

“Understand that the report that’s being referred to was never completed,” he said. “It was not completed when the writ was dropped before the last election, so it’s not a government report.”

Uh-huh.

Here’s the second big concern.

The seven-member review panel for the K-12 Public Education Funding Review — the NDP education study — was announced last week. It includes just one member from beyond the Lower Mainland – Victoria dog bone: former SD53 Secretary-Treasurer Lynda Minnabarriet, who now holds a similar position with the Gold Trail School District based out of Lillooet.

The remaining six members all have extensive connections to and/or reside in either the Lower Mainland or Victoria.

Not a single member is from the BC Interior.

The panel has as its narrow mission to review the current education funding model, looking at how government distributes more than $5.65 billion in operating funding to 60 boards of education throughout the province.

What it won’t be doing, as Ms. Larson expressed late last week, is looking at “identified transportation, recruitment and connectivity” issues.

This spring, it will undertake “consultations with key education stakeholders,” which in everyday talk means you and I and most of the other folk who send their children to public schools in the BC Interior won’t get an opportunity to comment.

If you’re starting to think it’s beginning to look like 2016 all over again, you could be right. The cast of characters may have changed, but the Lower Mainland focus remains the same.

Which is why it might be time to start looking for those pitchforks, pruninghooks and ploughshares.

Looking for them, mind you — but not brushing them off.

At least not just yet.

 

 

 

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