School District 72 superintendent Tom Longridge addresses those in attendance at one of the school closure consultation sessions held earlier this year. Longridge says it's too early to tell how or even if the new funding announcement will affect the closure process.

District surprised by funding announcement

Few details available about Rural Education Enhancement Fund announced by government

The provincial government may have specifically listed Oyster River and Discovery Passage Elementary as two schools that could be saved using their new Rural Education Enhancement Fund announced today, but it’s far too early to tell what that means for the district or those schools, according to Superintendent of School District 72 Tom Longridge.

Both schools were set to close at the end of this school year.

Longridge says he found out about the latest funding being made available by the Ministry of Education when the public announcement was made today.

“There was no indication at any time before this announcement was made that this would be happening, so we really need some time to process it,” Longridge said this afternoon after the announcement. “There’s a lot of information we need before we can say if this will affect the closures at all.”

The Rural Education Enhancement Fund, according to the government release, was formed, “to help rural schools in B.C. stay open,” and is meant to cover the expected savings a district would see should a school close.

The criteria for a school to be eligible to receive the funding, however, says that “closures due to facility condition or extreme enrolment decline are not included.”

Longridge says he has no idea how they are going to determine that.

“The board took many factors into account when they made the difficult decision to close Oyster River and Discovery Passage, and enrolment was only one of them, so I have no idea how the government is going to determine whether a school meets the criteria they’ve set.”

He also says there are no details available yet as to how a district would go about acquiring the funds should they be eligible, what costs it would cover, what the process would look like in terms of distributing those funds should they be made available, or restriction the ministry will put on them.

“We’ll have to gather much more information and put it before the board for thoughtful consideration before we can really say what this announcement really means for us as a district,” Longridge says, adding the public can be sure the district will be urgently working on this situation and will update the community when they have any more details than what was announced today.

“Rest assured, the secretary-treasurer is on top of this, trying to get us the information as soon as possible so we can get to work on figuring this out and get it before the board for consideration once we know more.”

The fund, according to the government, is open to districts outside the Lower Mainland, Greater Victoria and Kelowna in areas with populations under 15,000 where closure would eliminate specific grades within a community.

UPDATE (June 16):

The official opposition issued a statement this morning calling the announcement nothing more than a “campaign announcement.”

NDP education spokesperson Rob Fleming issued a release today saying what is needed for public education to thrive in B.C. is “secure, stable and adequate funding for our schools,” instead of a sudden influx of funds attempting to fix the problem created by the government’s “failed education budget (that) tore communities apart.”

“They have put parents and kids through incredible turmoil,” Fleming says in the NDP statement. Communities have spent bitter, divisive months mobilizing to save their schools. Now, after taking with two hands, Christy Clark is giving back a fraction of her cuts with one. She’s rolling out haphazard funding announcements and hoping these communities will forget her government’s shameful record on education that took B.C. from the second best funded education system in Canada to the second worst.”