B.C. school closures: funding issue or necessity?

The battle continues over the likelihood of school closures in various districts around the province, but one education consultant says they may be inevitable.

Education consultant Dick Chambers says budget cuts necessary in light of declining enrolment

Students, parents and teachers rally in front of the Vancouver School Board office on Tuesday evening. (CBC)

The battle over potential school closures in various districts across British Columbia rages on — parents continue to take part in rallies and voice their complaints.  

But not everyone feels the same way — retired B.C. school superintendent and now education consultant Dick Chambers calls shutting down schools a necessary evil.

"School closures are an extremely emotional issue, let alone political," he said.

"If you have less students in some districts ... then they probably should use less space and spend the money on teachers and kids directly."

Chambers outlined his perspective in detail in a 2007 report he wrote for the B.C. School Trustees Association. He says if districts want to keep the rooms they've got when enrolment numbers are down, they've got to make cuts somewhere.

But Vancouver School Board Chair Mike Lombardi disagrees.

"What we do in Vancouver is we like to listen to our parents, to our students, to our teachers and our support staff," Lombardi said.

"And what they tell us is they want schools where kids aren't crowded in. What they want to do is have ... places for art rooms, computer rooms, music rooms, library, rooms for special needs students."

But according to Chambers, closing some schools would mean the ability to have more of those specialty programs.

"You would be able to have the teachers be in the classroom in front of children or the special education aid. So I think what you get out of it is you get to spend the money on the direct services to children," Chambers said.

Funding issue or necessity?

It's not clear who is right.

"We don't really know that," said UBC professor emeritus Charles Ungerleider.

"We know what people have said over a number of years that funding has been inadequate to keep up with inflation and other costs, but we really don't know that from an independent point of view." 

UBC professor emeritus Charles Ungerleider says an independent review of education funding in B.C. hasn't been conducted in a long time. (CBC)

He says the goal would be finding out if the funding is enough to support the basic education program in B.C.

"And the reason I say that is because we haven't had a funding review for longer than I can remember and I've been around for a long time," Ungerleider said.

In the meantime, districts like Vancouver will continue to rally against the cuts.

"Officials respond to one thing and that's pressure from those who are going to be voting for them," Lombardi said.

"And it's very clear that our advocacy, the advocacy of the Parent Action Network of Vancouver, has had an impact. Why else would they do that? Out of the goodness of their hearts? I don't think so."