'Want adequate funding' parents tell Education Minister Mike Bernier during tour of Kootenay Lake School District
The Minister of Education Mike Bernier continued his tour of BC schools on Tuesday, making a stop in the Kootenay Lake District, specifically a tour of the aging Trafalgar Middle School — a school that appears to be on the chopping block as the board wrestles with its final draft plan surrounding the re-configuring use of facilitiesin District 8.
The Minister met with Trafalgar Principal Carol-Ann Leidloff, Superintendent for School District 8 Jeff Jones, as well as board members, trustees and students for an in depth tour of the middle school which is potentially set for a restructuring should the facilities plan N-30 be followed through.
“It’s really important to get out around the entire province and really see not only the schools, but seeing what’s happening in the classrooms,” said the Liberal MLA from Peace River South during his stop at Trafalgar Tuesday.
“Every district in the entire province is different and they have unique challenges and all have very unique and exciting stories to tell so it’s important to get out of Victoria and actually see what’s happening around the entire province.”
Bernier was shown around the school — everywhere from the gym to the wood shop — before attending a closed meeting with board members and trustees.
The Minister even showed off his badminton and drumming skills at one point during the tour.
Of course, it wasn’t all fun and games, as School District 8 is currently dealing with a contentious draft plan that has parents from Nelson to Salmo worried about the future of their children’s education.
On top of this, there are many parents who feel that there just isn’t enough money allocated to educational needs in the province.
In order to make their voices heard and get the attention of the Minister, a group of parents and children gathered outside Trafalgar to force the issue in traditional Nelson fashion with plenty of colourful signs and banners to help get the message across.
“I’d like the minister to take away that we need more funding for public education and people are out here demonstrating that support,” said Sheri Walsh, Chair of the Kootenay Lake DPAC.
Walsh said that constant maintenance and “band-aid” solutions are taking up money that could be used better to expand programs and focus on the children.
Walsh also said that this isn’t necessarily directed at SD8, but for educational funding in general.
“That’s it, we want adequate funding,” Walsh said.
“We want to move the funding away from fixing septic systems to putting resources in the classrooms for kids. We’d like him to hear that.”
Funding, of course, is an ever-present issue when it comes to education, not just in the Kootenays but province-wide.
Bernier said that he is aware of the issues facing SD8 and that the most important thing is maintaining the dialogue between parents, the board, and the Ministry.
“It’s really important that if we make sure we have that dialogue, I’m more than willing to sit down and talk to people and that’s going to start right away here with my meeting with the board and making sure that I hear some of the information they have and the asks that they have,” he said.
Bernier also stressed that dropping enrolment numbers, especially in rural areas like Nelson, is an issue that needs more recognition in regards to the conversation about funding.
“When you look at the fact that there’s 2000 fewer students in the district than there was 15-16 years ago, in that same time period we’ve actually increased the budget by over $4.2 million that we’ve given more to the school district here in the Nelson area to try and meet those operations,” he said.
Bernier also mentioned that there is now $40 million in grants available for districts to apply to, on top of the $40 million announced last year and that this district receives about $2,000 more per student funding than the provincial average.
The annual budget itself for the province has increased by $1.2 billion over the last 15 years, despite a drop in enrolment of 70,000 students.
“When you look at expectations people have, and that we have 1700 schools and facilities around the province and a lot of them are half full and there’s a lot of maintenance required,” he said.
Bernier again stressed the importance of community action between parents and trustees as a major driving force for change.
“We have some amazing school trustees and boards out there that are looking at all the different aspects,” Bernier said.
“They’re responsible for looking at spending the tax dollars wisely that they receive from the Ministry and it’s my responsibility to listen to them, to work with them and look for every opportunity to look for better advances for them.”
As far as Trafalgar goes, well, that remains to be seen.
However, Bernier said that he was impressed by the history of the school and the amazing programs it offers.
He said that these decisions are always tough because education isn’t just about the “bricks and mortar”, but what happens inside the school. Moving forward, communication is key and working with the community at the local level will ensure the decisions made have the most important factor driving them — the children.