Opponents to Osoyoos school closing have ally in Victoria

The school closing crisis that has engulfed Osoyoos found its way to the B.C. Legislature yesterday.

The potential closing of Osoyoos Secondary School and transportation of students to South Okanagan Secondary School in Oliver for classes was the subject of a morning exchange between New Democrat MLA Rob Fleming and Education Minister Mike Bernier.

“This is a decision that this local school board doesn’t even want to contemplate, yet alone force onto this community,” Mr. Fleming said. “Without local schools for their children, there’ll be huge economic impacts on Osoyoos’ ability to attract and keep businesses, skilled professionals and skilled workers in this town.

“My question is to the Premier,” he concluded. “Can she explain here in this House, to the people of Osoyoos, how forcing school closures is somehow good for families, good for kids and good for the economy of this town?”

Mr. Bernier replied closing a school is never an easy exercise, something with which he has personal experience as he has “had to shut a couple of schools down within my district.”

“But those decisions are best made at the local level, the local school district,” he continued. “They’re the ones that understand the needs, the demands and the experiences that they have in the area, which are really what drive the decisions that are best made for the students in that area.”

That assertion did not sit well with Mr. Fleming, who suggested the provincial government was forcing the decision.

“When funding for education in this province goes from second-best in the country to ninth-worst in the country, when we have $1,000 less per student than the Canadian average — as we do in British Columbia — the decision is being made by the Minister of Education, by the Premier and by the Liberal government, not by local school boards,” Mr. Fleming responded.

“Last week [more than] 1,000 people attended an information meeting, and there, the former mayor, Stu Wells, spoke up and said this: ‘This is a decision ultimately made by the Minister of Education.’ And: ‘I’d like to see the Premier come to this town and tell us that they’re going to close the school because that’s whose decision it is.’  How right the former mayor is.”

The education minister, however, said the Liberal government is providing ample funding to school districts.

“We have a 42 percent increase in this province on per-student funding,” Mr. Bernier said. “It’s a record in the province of British Columbia, for all of Canada — a record investment for our students.”

You can read a full account of the exchange here, beginning at Reference 1025. You can also watch the exchange here.

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