Serge Rousselle introduces new triggers for school closure reviews
Under 100 students, or population below 30% capacity will trigger sustainability studies
The Gallant government is bringing in new criteria that will trigger more studies of possible school closures.
The new triggers "seem to me to be quite reasonable," he said.
Rousselle says that doesn’t mean the schools will automatically close — only that the district will be required to put those schools through the existing review process.
"They are sustainability studies, so the [District Education Council] people will have to do the work to look at each of the criteria," he says.
Those existing criteria are enrolment, health and safety, quality of education, the time and cost of transportation, the cost of the school, community impact, impact on other schools, and economic development.
The policy requires a series of three public consultations before the district can recommend closure. That goes to the minister for final approval.
42 schools to be studied
There are 27 anglophone schools and 15 francophone schools that have fewer than 100 students or are at less than 30 per cent capacity.
"We’re going to look at these schools to make sure we have the best schools possible, in terms of teaching our kids, in terms of community, in terms of all the different elements," Rousselle said.
The 42 schools where studies will be triggered do not include those being studied this year.
Any closures as a result of the new criteria would not happen before the fall of 2016.
Rousselle says schools on islands will be exempt from the new trigger criteria. He also says districts won’t have to study an individual school more than once every four years.
He says the new trigger criteria are intended to create consistency and fairness across the province.
Dual bus system required by Charter
In the legislature, Progressive Conservative Opposition education critic Gary Crossman responded to Rousselle’s announcement by pointing to questions about duality in school busing.
"The two systems for busing … I’m getting emails here today how people are unhappy about closing schools, but yet offering extra buses," he said.
But Crossman later told reporters he wasn’t questioning the dual system at all, but was advocating "making the most efficient use of buses going from school to school" to ensure they’re full.
"I was speaking about [coverage in] the newspaper this morning, and comments coming back with peoples’ feelings about how to fill those buses up."
Duality "wasn’t part of the conversation. … That’s something you’d have to ask the minister of education about, regarding constitutional rights."
Rousselle, a constitutional law professor, says the dual system is required because of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees English and French school systems in New Brunswick.
A 2000 Supreme Court of Canada decision about a Prince Edward Island case makes it clear that busing is considered part of the education system, he said.
PC MLA Bill Oliver, whose riding includes a school now being studied for closure, says rural New Brunswick "is under attack" by the current round of studies.
But Rousselle says the new trigger criteria will cover schools in both urban and rural communities.