Families put through emotional wringer

This editorial appeared in the June 29, 2016 edition of the Interior News. Download a pdf of the editorial here.

As we rejoice in the high school graduation of many students in Stikine during the past week, it is hard to imagine a more chaotic approach to the public education system than that displayed by the Christy Clark government over the past month.

Out-of-the-blue announcements by the BC Liberals in the last 30 days have put many involved with schools at the community level through an emotional wringer once again. In the past number of years, and continuing today, school district administrations across the province faced chronic underfunding for rising operational costs. Just to keep the lights on, for instance, has cost more with hydro rates going up 74 per cent since 2001.

Added to this was the $54 million in claw backs from school districts over the last two years under an administrative savings plan imposed by the premier and her government. A factor in a new round of proposed rural school closures is the combined effect of these pressures on district budgets overall.

In Smithers, SD 54 trustees took administration recommendations to public consultation meetings beginning in February on the future of Lake Kathlyn Elementary. These were gut-wrenching, emotional, stressful months for parents, trustees, teachers, support staff, administrators and, let’s not forget, children.

In mid-April, trustees voted to close the school. Students, teachers, support staff and resources were reassigned to other schools for the fall. Budgets for next year were set to reflect the closure. Then in mid-June, without forewarning or consultation, came a $2.7 million fund announced by the premier apparently available to keep rural schools open. Administration and trustees had only days to get details on this funding and revisit next year’s budget or reconsider any choices already taken. Turns out the funds are a one-time offer only, so do little to address the chronic unfunded cost issues. As SD 54 trustees decided, the criteria for applying for the funding just didn’t fit, even though the premier’s news release stated otherwise. Trustees once again shouldered the consequences of this misinformation. And the timing begged the question, ‘if this money was available then why wasn’t it announced earlier to give trustees more time to consider options?’

After 15 years of their attacks on public education, this past month the Christy Clark government even managed to create more chaos, and it is kids and families who suffer.

- Doug Donaldson is the MLA for Stikine, Official Opposition spokesperson for children and families, and deputy spokesperon for mines.