It’s an offer the School District 72 board can refuse.
At the latest board of education, secretary-treasurer Kevin Patrick updated the trustees of a grant opportunity that could provide funds for small, remote school to keep their doors open.
“Part of it is meant to support smaller, rural schools,” he said.
It’s called the Rural Education Enhancement Fund (REEF), and it’s administered by the provincial Ministry of Education. The deadline for the application was Feb. 15. The grant is intended for small communities outside Vancouver, Victoria or Kelowna. The population threshold to be eligible is 15,000 – too small for Campbell River schools. However, the district also serves Cortes, Quadra, Surge Narrows and Sayward schools, which fit this criterion.
Typically, district staff and trustees look for these kinds of grant opportunities, but this one comes with a catch. It is really intended for situations where districts are in the midst of considering the closure of a small school. Trustee Joyce McMann asked about the need to consider closing a school as a condition of the grant. As Patrick responded, “It’s not something you can fake.”
The board had only finished receiving a presentation at the same meeting looking at the effects of its decision to close two elementary schools in the community 2016.
Even with the potential for a grant, the trustees expressed no interest in pretending to consider closing another school as a way to leverage funding.
“We’re not prepared to put our communities through that trauma. It’s dishonest,” trustee John Kerr said.
McMann said the board had made it clear to school communities such as Quadra and Surge Narrows that they would not consider closing schools, adding it would undermine the board’s integrity.
“I just don’t think we can play that game,” she said.
Trustee Daryl Hagen echoed this concern, saying he did not want to create anxiety in any school communities, while board chair Richard Franklin went further, questioning why the province, even after a change of government, was still offering the program rather than simply acknowledging that it costs districts more per student to operate schools in rural areas.
“I’m disappointed that this REED program is still being put out there,” he said.
Patrick also told the board that with funding formula changes expected from the province in the future, there was a possibility the Ministry of Education might acknowledge some of the issues in terms of funding rural schools.
“Things are subject to change next year,” he said.
The board voted unanimously not to apply for the grant.