Will Rural Education Enhancement Fund Keep Quesnel Schools Open?
Quesnel, B.C. – The provincial government’s announcement of extra funding to keep rural schools open last week has the Quesnel School Board scrambling.
Last Wednesday Victoria announced there would be funding made available (through the so called Rural Education Enhancement Fund) to keep rural schools open this coming school year in districts outside Greater Victoria, the Lower Mainland, and Kelowna.
“The amount of funding districts will be eligible for is to be equal to their expected savings from closing the school,” reads a government news release, which went on to explain only areas with populations less than 15,000 need apply.
The government also pledged to conduct a full study of rural education funding in the province “to seek a long-term solution.”
Nine schools in the province are eligible for the money, including two in the Quesnel School District: Kersley and Parkland elementary schools.
Both, along with a third (Baker), were already slated to close the end of this month following a grueling community consultation process earlier this spring.
Quesnel School Board Chair Tony Goulet admitted the government announcement caught him and his colleagues off guard.
“The announcement was actually made right here in Quesnel and there was no forewarning of what the announcement would be,” he says. “It puts us in a very awkward spot because we have three school closures (Kersley, Parkland, Baker) and two of the schools according to them will fit under the funding and one doesn’t (Baker). So we’re still working through what that looks like so we can move forward.”
He also says it’s too soon to say whether or not the funding will allow them to keep Parkland and Kersley schools open.
“The school district here has prepared for reconfiguration and amalgamation and now this just throws a wrench into everything until we find out exactly what can be funded,” says Goulet.
“And we’re just applying for the money because we don’t know what the money is going to be. If it’s going to be long-term, one-term, two-term or however long the funding is going to be and so we’re really going to need to look at it to see what’s possible and feasible.”
He says the timing of the announcement was less than ideal.
“The timing of this announcement is horrible with just two weeks left in the school year. I mean the only words I have are interesting in the fact we went through a process and we did what we did to try and get over our deficit ($1 million).
“Aggravating – we went to the community, we got beat up in the public, we got everything we could thrown at us. And frustrating in the fact that we went from a deficit to some funding under the administrative savings announcement to now the Rural Education Enhancement Fund. So it’s been quite the interesting term for trustees.”
Moving forward all he can say is “stay tuned.”
“This week we’ll know what’s going to happen and if the money’s coming and what the money will be. That’s a big deal too because if it’s only so much money and we still can’t keep the schools open, that’s a huge concern as well.”