British Columbia

B.C. school districts say it's 'difficult not to be cynical' about $25M

After the province announced $25 million would be returned to schools, districts and advocates around B.C. criticized the amount, the timing and the unpredictability of making cuts — only to see the money returned.

From Quesnel to Vancouver, districts unhappy about 'new' funding

Parents and students protest outside the School District 67 office on Tuesday. (Brady Strachan/CBC)

After ordering school boards to cut their budgets last year for "administrative savings," the province is announcing $25 million is now being returned — but around B.C., school board representatives and others say the money won't change much.

Tony Goulet, chair of the Quesnel School District, says the $168,000 his district is receiving won't allow them to reopen any of the three schools closing this year.

"It would have been nice if this announcement was made in September. It could have made things look different," Goulet told Radio West host Audrey McKinnon. "It may not have been three [schools closed]; it could have been two schools.  It could have looked totally different. It could have been one. There's all kinds of options we could have had."

Earlier on Tuesday, Coralee Oakes, the Liberal MLA representing Quesnel, said, "I hope this announcement will encourage trustees not to dismiss the recommendations from rural communities and try to keep their schools open."

Goulet says this money wouldn't come close to making that possible.

"We were looking for almost $1 million because of the downloaded costs that came from the government," he said.

Osoyoos: money probably won't save high school

In Osoyoos, parents and community leaders are not optimistic the money will be enough to save the town's only high school from closing. 

The Okanagan-Similkameen School District will get just over $118,000 in one-time funding.

"Let's hope that's possible. We will do everything possible to make that work," Mayor Sue McKortoff said.

Others are even less optimistic, like the town's Save our School committee chair Brenda Dorosz.

"I don't think it's going to help us at all," she said. "We need a long term solution moving forward and I don't think $118,000 is going to cut it."

Osoyoos Secondary School is slated to close at the end of June.

Prince George: 'very difficult not to be cynical'

The Prince George School District gets just over $622,000 dollars back from the province — after the school district had to find over $1 million in savings this year.

"I'm just so surprised! Just before the election campaign starts, the government is going to give back," district board chair Tony Cable said. "It's very difficult not to be cynical."

B.C. Education Minister Mike Bernier announced $25 million in funding redirected from administrative savings, but the timing of the surprise announcement was widely criticized by school board members across the province. (CBC News)

Comox Valley: students only going for half days on Fridays

In the Comox Valley, the school board recently approved a budget that calls for students to only go to class for half days on Fridays.

The move saves the district $1.75 million, and board chair Tom Weber says the $355,000 the district got back will not change that plan.

"It's a little unfair to reference the money as an influx of dollars. It really just means we are giving less back to government," he told On The Coast host Stephen Quinn. "It does little to move us away from the challenges that we have."

Earlier this month, the government announced school districts will have to pay for new technology called the Next Generation Network at a cost of $24 million with no additional financial support.

Weber said that move is "consistent with a series of costs that have been off-loaded … but then districts are left to fund them out of budgets that are already hard-pressed."

Vancouver: 'stable, predictable, adequate funding' needed

Like Weber, Vancouver School Board chair Mike Lombardi was critical of how the government announced the money as 'new' funding in a campaign-style event.

"A bit ridiculous," he called it.

And while he says the money is "appreciated," he says it's only one-time funding.

"What we need is stable, predictable, adequate funding," he said.

"School districts need to plan for stable environments for teaching and learning, and what this one-time infusion of funding does …  [is] it creates an unstable and unpredictable environment which is very challenging for school districts."

With files from Radio West, On The Coast and Brady Strachan

To hear the interviews with Tony Goulet of the Quesnel School District and Tony Cable of the Prince George School District, click the audio labelled: Quesnel and Prince George school districts on return of admin savings

To hear the interviews with Tom Weber of the Comox Valley School District and Mike Lombardi of the Vancouver School Board, click the audio labelled: Comox Valley and Vancouver school districts on return of admin savings