John Kerr School Trustee

A $155,000 step backwards for School District 72, thanks to directive from the province

Province forces school district to pay for installation of worse Internet infrastructure than they currently have

School District 72 (SD72) has another reason to be upset at the provincial government after the decision was made recently to move to Telus for Internet services for all districts in the province.

That decision, Secretary-Treasurer Kevin Patrick told the board at last week’s public meeting, will cost SD72 $155,000 and be a step backwards in terms of technological capacity.

For the last two decades, Patrick told the board, SD72’s Internet has been provided by a service called PLNet, which services more than 1,800 schools and other public institutions in B.C., for what Patrick called, “a nominal fee.”

In addition to PLNet, however, “the school district was able to, along with CRTV at the time, build a really, really fast – one of the best in the province – local network,” Patrick said, to add to the PLNet connection.

“PLNet, however, has hit its end of life,” he said. “The Province of B.C. – across all ministries and government agencies – has signed a purchase agreement with Telus to provide what they are calling ‘Next Generation Network,’ and that’s where the bad part comes.”

The “nominal fee” the district was paying before will still cover the service, Patrick told the board, “but Telus does require infrastructure installation and changeover costs,” for which the school board is responsible.

Of the three quotes the district received for that work, the best one was $155,000.

And it’s not going to be as good as what they have now, Patrick said.

“Compared to our service that we received from CRTV and currently receive from Shaw, this will be a step back,” Patrick told the board.

“But the cost to the school board to maintain that level of service would have been an extra $200,000 per year.”

Trustee Ron Kerr pointed out that the board, just that night, passed their 10-Year Facility Plan, which contained a recommendation to improve technological resources, “and the government has now reduced our capacity to provide those resources.”

“So instead of being a really excellent, first class system, we’re stepping back and into a system that is adequate?” Kerr asked Patrick to confirm.

Patrick agreed that is essentially the case, based on what he is being  told by the district’s IT staff.

While the board did pass the motion to move the $155,000 from their unrestricted surplus to cover the cost of the new equipment, a clearly frustrated Trustee Richard Franklin suggested they also express their displeasure with the situation.

“This is yet another cost downloaded from the provincial government to the board,” Franklin said after the vote.

“Considering how much money we had to send back already to them … in recognition of the fact that we’re trying to provide a quality education, when the cost of providing that education increases, the board can’t constantly find it within its existing budget,” he said, and suggested they express their feelings with a letter to the Ministry of Education.

Board Chair Susan Wilson said a letter will be drafted by the communications strategy committee, upon which she sits, hopefully by the next public meeting, scheduled for Jan. 12, for the board to review.