Candidates tackle education as Tuesday nears

The North Island's three candidates talk about declining enrolment in the school system

  • May. 10, 2013 12:00 p.m.

Tuesday is election day in B.C.

In the conclusion to our series of questions put to the North Island riding’s three candidates, we asked about eduction.

Q. Declining enrolment in the region’s elementary and high schools is expected to become a more serious issue given the aging demographics of our society. How would your Party better assist local school boards in this transition?

Claire Trevena, BC NDP

The BCNDP’s education policies are based on the belief that every child, regardless of where they live or their family’s income, has the right to receive a quality education.

Unfortunately, for years the BC Liberals have downloaded costs onto school boards making it more and more difficult to deliver a quality education, particularly in rural areas.

Compounding this growing crisis is the current funding formula. It is based on the number of children in a school district. This is particularly unfair for rural districts with smaller communities and higher costs, such as student transportation.

While local school boards are anticipating a short-term increase in student numbers, the longer demographic trend is downward. Under the current funding formula, this will mean even less money in the future. I strongly support changing the formula to remove this unfair bias that impacts rural school districts.

Locally elected school boards represent the needs of their communities.  They must be able to work independently, backed by government support, to meet their local needs.

To help school districts improve the quality of education, the BCNDP has pledged to invest $265 million over four years to hire more teachers, teaching assistants, librarians and counsellors and to enable students with special needs to receive the classroom support they require. The use and allocation of these new resources will be done in close collaboration with school boards, parents and educators. It is an overdue investment in our children and in B.C.’s future.

Nick Facey, BC Liberals

Right off the bat, I want to recognize that there are great teachers on the North Island.

I went through the public school system in Campbell River and thoroughly benefited from it. Many classmates and myself went on to attend our choice of major universities.

We are also seeing great success in our younger students being amongst the best in Canada and top 10 for the world. We really do have a world-class education system right here in B.C.

On declining student population, we have seen this has been on a downward trend for over a decade. It is not a new issue, but it does require tough decisions. It’s natural to love a local school, and many fight to hang on to it despite the fact it’s often at half capacity.

As a local example, if the board of education decided to keep every school open, there would be approximately 100 students at Ocean Grove, 50 at Oyster River, and 30 at Maple School. This would become a huge financial challenge as we would be paying to keep the lights and heat going in a facility that is significantly under capacity.

The students would lose out on the many benefits that come with having a large student population, such as sports teams or music programs, and we’d have too many grades in one class where it wasn’t truly required.

By consolidating, we can reduce costs and deliver better education.

Transition is tough – even more so in rural communities, which is why today’s BC Liberals introduced several measures to assist boards in dealing with the financial challenge declining enrolment brings.

To stabilize stable funding, we introduced funding protection, so districts with declining enrolment cannot receive less than 98.5 per cent of the previous year. We will also continue to supplement funding with unique geographic factors, unique student needs such as Aboriginal learners, and to deal with class composition issues.

Ultimately, the best way we can support boards and our community is by growing the economy and attracting young families to Campbell River and northern Vancouver Island. This is another reason why today’s BC Liberals are focused on jobs and skills training, because communities and schools thrive when job opportunities expand.

I’m a product of the North Island public school system, and believe in its value for our communities, as well as knowing how quality education creates more choices later in life. I’m committed to working with our amazing teachers, and local school districts to make sure we have the best education possible.

Bob Bray, BC Conservatives

Despite acknowledging the implacable advance of the median age of Canadians, the declining enrolment in the region’s schools could be, in large part, mitigated by an improved vital North Island economy.

Our immediate concern must be, of course, ensuring that no matter the number of students going through our school’s doors, standards are maintained and ideally enhanced.

School boards, however, confronted with a per student funding model, are naturally confounded in this regard as funding declines in lockstep with ever fewer students.

Once again, the BC Conservative Party remains emphatic in contending that an expanding local economy will attract new families to the region and encourage those here to remain here.

The consequences attending a steadily declining economy will be, inevitably, school consolidation. That is, children attending schools which are ever more distant from their homes.

A BC Conservative government will get B.C. back to basics with a series of education reforms aimed at stabilizing funding for four-year periods.

The current arrangement is for school boards to get a three-year budget estimate from the province for funding, but it’s very often cut midway through the term.

We’re saying we are going to commit to stable funding over four-year terms, to make sure that budgets can be set and stuck to.

The BC Conservatives will work with teachers to separate legitimate wage and benefit demands from classroom concerns.

Classroom issues should be dealt with at the local level and involve parent advisory committees and local teachers’ associations.

By stabilizing education funding and giving parents a greater say in how our schools are run, a BC Conservative government will get B.C. back to basics and stand up for our children and families.