New Brunswick

UNBSJ professor urges caution on rural school closures

The dean of business at the University of New Brunswick in Saint John is urging the provincial government not to rush to close rural schools with small student populations.

Economics professor Fazley Siddiq says rural New Brunswickers should not be disadvantaged

The dean of business at the University of New Brunswick in Saint John is urging the provincial government not to rush to close rural schools with small student populations.

Economics professor Fazley Siddiq says people who choose to live outside of urban centres in New Brunswick shouldn't be disadvantaged as a result.

"The people in those communities deserve the same quality of education, deserve the same access to high quality education, just like children in urban areas where there are large population centres and schools are much more plentiful," he said.

Last week, the Gallant government announced new criteria that will trigger more studies of possible school closures.

The new triggers, which Education Minister Serge Rousselle calls "quite reasonable," will require an automatic review of any school with fewer than 100 students or enrolment below 30 per cent of capacity.

​Saddiq says the challenge for the government is to ensure rural communities continue to be well-served, even when the population is declining.

He says it is time to get creative so communities aren't isolated.

"We seem to be coming up with thoughts and ideas that are often not quite as visionary as we need to be."

"It's painful on the one hand that we have to do what we are doing, and yet, if we don't do it, inaction is probably much worse than the difficult choices that we might have to make over the next number of years," said Saddiq. 

Saddiq says there should be a multi-year plan, with changes phased in over a period of time, rather than in a year or two.

He adds the provincial government should move cautiously and try pilot projects to determine what works best.

In New Brunswick there are 27 anglophone schools and 15 francophone schools with fewer than 100 students or are at less than 30 per cent capacity.

That does not include schools that are already being studied. Three schools, in Lorne, Pennfield, and Coles Island are already scheduled to close before September, while several others are being reviewed.