Province throws lifeline to closing rural schools

Premier Christy Clark announces fund to keep schools open in Osoyoos, Summerland, Winlaw and Campbell River district

Education Minister Mike Bernier

The B.C. government has announced a new “rural education enhancement fund” designed to allow local school districts to keep rural schools open that were expected to be closed.

Districts will have to apply for provincial funds with an estimate of savings they would realize from closing a school.

The fund is specifically offered to districts where school closures are pending, including Quesnel school district, where Kersley and Parkland elementary schools were set to close. Premier Christy Clark announced the fund at a chamber of commerce meeting in Quesnel Wednesday.

Other eligible districts are:

• Okanagan Similkameen, where Osoyoos secondary was scheduled to close

• Kootenay Lake, where elementary schools in Yahk and Winlaw were proposed for closure

• Bulkley Valley, where Lake Kathlyn elementary was scheduled to close

• Okanagan Skaha, where Trout Creek elementary in Summerland was expected to close

• Campbell River, where Oyster River elementary and Discovery Passage school in Duncan Bay were expected to close

Bernier said the expected cost of the program is $2.7 million this year, and will be ongoing in future years. It is available to districts outside the Lower Mainland, Greater Victoria and Kelowna areas.

Bernier, in Quesnel this week for a B.C. Liberal caucus retreat, said he visited Kersley elementary, where students would have to ride a school bus for an hour an a half a day if the community school closed.

Community protests have been ongoing for weeks in Osoyoos, where high school students would have had to bus to Oliver to complete graduation.

“The whole point of this is to look at unique circumstances like Osoyoos,” Bernier told reporters in a conference call.

More than 300 people turned out to a community meeting in Winlaw Monday, where they announced they were raising money to sue the school district to keep their school open.