Applying for REEF funds would be ‘morally corrupt’

The Campbell River School District (SD72) will not pretend to consider closing any of the district’s rural schools just to get the additional funding from the government that it takes to properly operate those facilities.

And so, at this week’s public meeting, the board of education voted not to apply for the next intake of the province’s Rural Education Enhancement Fund (REEF). The provincial government recently announced they would again be accepting intake applications for REEF funding – which they implemented last year as a way to help districts keep rural schools open – but the SD72 board says the application criteria to receive the funding is too restrictive and applying for the funds would require toying with the public’s emotions and playing political games.

Secretary-Treasurer Kevin Patrick told the board Tuesday night that Surge Narrows, Quadra, Cortes and Sayward Elementary would all qualify for additional funding from the government should they apply, but there is no telling how much funding they would receive and the board would have to meet one more requirement put forth in the application criteria – that those facilities be under consideration for closure.

“To suggest that, so that we can get some more money, we would have a conversation with a community (about potential school closures) when actually our intent is not to close those schools, is morally corrupt, in my mind,” said Trustee Darryl Hagen.

Trustee Joyce McMann agreed.

“I think we could play the game and say that we’re considering closing the schools for whatever money we’re hoping to gain out of it, but the pain and disruption it would cause and the dishonesty involved in that, I just can’t support.”

Trustee Richard Franklin added this grant application requirement and approval criteria is yet another another example of how flawed the government’s funding model is.

“It does cost more per pupil to run isolated and rural schools, and the government knows that, but our district, though our 10-Year Facility Plan, made a commitment to keep those schools open for the benefit of those students,” Franklin said. “It’s ironic that the district that has the foresight to make a 10-year plan is now shut out from additional funding from the province. What should be happening here is that the province should know that it costs more to run these rural schools, so the funding for those schools should be commensurably more. It’s unfortunate that we can’t access those funds due to our own foresight, efficiency and effectiveness.”

Trustee John Kerr, meanwhile, took that argument one step further, saying he thinks the government put that particular criteria in place for the funding in order to limit the number of districts who would qualify for the funding.

“That condition about the school being at risk for being closed … boxes us out from being to access any of that funding, because I don’t think any of us around this table would be prepared to be dishonest enough to go to a community and tell them we’re considering closing their school just to get our 30 pieces of silver,” Kerr said. “These terms of reference seem very deliberately set to make sure that the minimum number of districts can apply. I mean, we would have justification to apply for four schools to get this funding had  that condition that it be considered for closure not been included.”

The motion to not apply for REEF funding passed unanimously, with Kerr adding, “I think it’s unfortunate that whatever money is being made available isn’t available to us, but I guess we’ll have to just move on from it.”