Does this mean they were listening?
The Kootenay Lake school board was already planning to petition the BC Trustees Association to change utilization requirements for rural schools, a topic that has come up repeatedly during the contentious SD8 facilities planning process, and now the Ministry of Education has announced they’re scrapping utilization targets altogether.
“There has been a great deal of confusion about utilization targets lately,” Education Minister Mike Bernier wrote in a prepared statement. “We are ending that confusion today by getting rid of utilization targets as part of our school investment process.”
He believes their new system will better reflect the Ministry of Education’s approach to funding schools province-wide. How exactly the new system will work was not detailed. Previously schools were judged on capacity targets, and were urged to shoot for 95 percent.
“Getting rid of the sliding scale of utilization targets used throughout the province based on a district’s size better reflects the reality of how school projects are approved in B.C. — on a case-by-case basis.”
So is this good news? Superintendent Jeff Jones thinks so.
“This announcement came unexpectedly and we haven’t had a chance to get together as a board and discuss it, but I’m optimistic,” he told the Star.
“What we’re hearing is the ministry is keen and interested to work closely with each district and to look at the particular context they’re dealing with rather than relying on a number that was set and used as a guide, but which people came to understand as a restriction.”
Jones said he couldn’t theorize on what kind of impact this will have on SD8.
“I’m curious to see the conversation this stimulates with the trustees at future board meetings,” he said.
None of this means schools can rest on their laurels, though. Bernier said districts will still be held responsible for empty classrooms.
“School districts will still need to justify their applications to build new schools or expand existing ones. Taxpayers expect to be investing in the right number of schools for the actual number of students. The reason is simple — putting massive efforts into maintaining empty classrooms short-changes students of better classroom services, more teachers and more education assistants.”