It will take more than a new school board and new ideas to balance the books.
In November, voters elected school trustees who opposed school closures. But no one should be surprised if closures come back to the board table this spring.
Nanaimo school district staff is anticipating a budget shortfall of nearly $4 million for 2015-16. Provincial underfunding is largely to blame, but our declining enrolment is working against us, as well. According to the Ministry of Education’s calculations, we have too few students at too many schools.
Administrative, teaching and support staff positions will be trimmed; textbooks will be repaired with Scotch tape; photocopy paper will be rationed. And it won’t be enough.
Trustees are holding brainstorming sessions these days, asking a question they’re loath to answer themselves: Should the school district look at closing schools?
There are countless priorities for public education. We want improved test scores, higher graduation rates, expanded course selection. We want new facilities and modern technology. We want our kids to be educated in the neighbourhoods in which we live. But when we tally up all these wants and needs and create a column of dollar figures, we see that we can’t have it all.
We need our provincial government to make public education a greater priority, and fund it like it’s a priority.
And closing schools has to happen, in the fairest way possible.
Voters decided that new trustees can do a better, fairer job. That may be the case, but really, in November we were simply rejecting school closures, as we do every election.
Just because closures are a foregone conclusion doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fight them – we should. We should advocate for our neighbourhoods and for our kids. But at some point we might find we have too few teachers, and the textbooks have fallen apart, and the paper has run out.
Are we trying to make our schools better for our children? If not, then what are we trying to do?