Are we willing to pay the price to keep schools open?

Our View

School District 72 could keep all the schools it has open if it wanted to.

Actually, that would be if you wanted them to. But you would have to convince the school trustees that personalized, small-scale, wage-inefficient delivery of education is more important to the majority than maximizing the expenditure of tax dollars.

And that might be a hard sell.

Disrupting children’s lives is never pleasant. Keeping kids in the same schools throughout their educational careers is without a doubt, the best case scenario. However, in today’s world is it realistic to expect?

The fact of the matter is that the school district is operating some facilities at 40 and 53 per cent capacity. That means 60-47 per cent of the school is empty.

On Tuesday, SD72 trustees named the schools they’re likely to close after a review of district facilities. The two chosen – Oyster River and Discovery Passage – should not be a surprise to anyone. These are schools that are operating at 40 and 53 per cent capacity.

Those schools could be kept open and doing so would send a strong message that the comfort of students is the top priority in delivering education in the district. But is it? Is sharing classes with more than one grade better?

Is delivering limited selection, under-provisioned courses to a small group of students the best way to do things when they could go to a school  with enough students per class to justify providing all the resources needed to deliver the curriculum? And some of these schools are newer too.

Taxpayers in Campbell River and the neighbouring rural areas are a feisty lot and they have proven to be prickly about inefficient spending of public taxes. Just ask city council about that. It would take a brave school trustee to come out in favour of high-spending, small-classroom education delivery.

School District 72 could have the proverbial gold-plated education system. It could be lauded from far and wide about how it stuck to its guns and kept classroom sizes down and kept rural and neighbourhood schools open despite the current declining enrolment. SD72 can do that but it would cost a lot of money.

The question comes down to, do trustees have the mandate to, in essence, waste taxpayers dollars? Then there’s the elephant in the classroom here – namely, the provincial Ministry of Education. This is a government department that has not been afraid to step in and overrule a board of school trustees because of its budgetary decisions. The provincial government would make short work of a board that kept schools open at 40 per cent occupancy.

And it’s not like the relocated children won’t get an education – a first-class education, for that matter. They’ll probably get a better one because the efficiencies involved. The loss of schools impacts communities, there’s no doubt. It would be nice to keep them all open. But enrollment is declining and nothing seems to be stopping that.

The schools could be kept open, if we’re willing to pay for them.