The BC New Democrats’ Education Critic says he is planning on attending the next consultation session scheduled by the Okanagan-Similkameen School District as it ponders closing one of the two Osoyoos schools.
And Rob Fleming says he also hopes to have a chance to address the SD53 school board March 8 when it hosts the meeting at the Sonora Community Centre in Osoyoos.
“I imagine I will plan to speak at the consultation meeting that evening,” he said by telephone yesterday.
“I definitely would like to stay a few words about provincial funding policies that are at root for consideration of school closures in your region.”
Mr. Fleming, the MLA for Victoria-Swan Lake, has already addressed the potential Osoyoos school closing, raising the issue in the BC Legislature earlier this month.
“This is a decision that this local school board doesn’t even want to contemplate, yet alone force onto this community,” Mr. Fleming said February 16.
“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.”
Mr. Fleming’s visit to Osoyoos comes in large part with the efforts of local advocate Brenda Dorosz, who tendered an invitation for the MLA to attend the March 8 meeting.
“I’m very excited and happy that our voice has been heard,” she said, noting the Osoyoos situation is now generating provincial interest. “I look forward to (Mr. Fleming) coming.”
She has also arranged a luncheon with Mr. Fleming that day at Troy’s Grill. The soup and sandwich event will run between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.
Mr. Fleming’s visit comes despite the provincial government’s assertion it does not have a role to play in the school-closing decision.
Earlier this month, in an interview from Victoria, Linda Larson, the Liberal MLA for Boundary-Similkameen, said that until the school board has made a final decision, “I’m not sure there is a role for the provincial government to play.”
That position was affirmed by Education Minister Mike Bernier, who, when responding to questions from Mr. Fleming in the Legislature, said “those decisions are best made at the local level, the local school district.
“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.”
Mr. Fleming has rejected that position, noting that under the Clark government funding for the BC Education system has gone from second best among Canada’s provinces to second-worst.
“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,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Osoyoos community got a bit of a lift Monday from Town of Oliver Council, which voted to send a letter of support to its peers in Osoyoos.
“We’ll let Osoyoos know we’re thinking about them,” said Mayor Ron Hovanes in directing staff to write a letter to be signed by council.
All members of council supported the idea, some with the caveat that they do not want to be seen to be telling school trustees how to do their jobs as elected representatives.
The school district has proposed closing either Osoyoos Secondary or Osoyoos Elementary as part of its effort to erase a structural deficit that could be as much as $1.4 million by 2018.
— with files from Roy Wood