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CONTRIBUTION · 19th March 2010
Don Intermela
Video of event now uploaded below
Another school closes in rural B.C.-South Hazelton Elementary.

On March 17th 2010 the District 82 “Board of Education” voted to close a small thriving rural school located in South Hazelton.
The rationale? …….a chance at saving 177 thousand dollars. Here’s how they expect to achieve this savings. The closing of the school creates an immediate LOSS of revenue to the District of approximately 200 thousand dollars. It will cost the broader Hazelton community 350,000 in lost wages, through the subsequent reduction in school staffing, in order for the District to recover the lost 200 thousand plus achieve their coveted 177 thousand dollar savings.

Additionally, the District claims that there will be no increase in transportation costs associated with bussing the 90 students down the highway to another community, due to a “flat rate clause,” included within the contract with the bus company. (Transportation is contracted out) It’s fair to say that there is a level of skepticism within our community regarding the accuracy of the District’s presumption.

Several minutes after voting to close our school, one of the trustees demonstrated just how much consideration he had given to the issue. While defending the trustee budget of 200 thousand, he compared it to the overall District budget of 54 million, illustrating what an insignificant sum the 200 thousand was in comparison to the 54 million. It was then pointed out to him that he had, just moments earlier, voted in favour of closing a well run, thriving school of 90 students, in an attempt to save a mere 177 thousand.

The same trustee also suggested that any changes to the board should go to a referendum. Sadly, there was no mention of such a process being applied to something equally or more significant, such as a school closure.

The District claims that closing the school and relocating the 90 students to the two remaining schools in nearby communities will not adversely affect the children, academically or socially. The veracity of this claim will soon be tested as this experiment unfolds over the next several years. Unfortunately, it is unclear as to what, if any, recourse will be available should it become apparent that the District’s plan is failing to achieve the savings expected, or is in fact affecting the students and their families in a negative manner.

The education funding formula put in place by the current provincial government factors heavily in this rural school closure pandemic. Since the funding change was imposed in 2002, there have been approximately
200 school closures in BC.
The majority of these closures have occurred in rural communities similar to South Hazelton. The inadequate level of funding from the province forces Districts to seek savings in any way they can. Closing schools has become an increasingly popular method.

Districts all over BC are now utilizing school closures as a desperate attempt to stay afloat financially. Clearly the focus has become more about the money, rather than being centered upon the needs and interests of the communities, which these “boards of education “have been elected to represent.

The problem is further compounded in the Hazelton area by an obvious lack of representation on the board. Hazelton has 1 trustee out of the 9 on the board, the remainder being made up of 7 from the Terrace/Kitimat area and 1 from the Stewart area. Also, although the Hazelton area is made up of 70% First Nation’s people and the District rate for First Nation’s people overall is 30%, there is no designated First Nation’s representation on the board.

I would like to be clear in stating that I believe our Hazelton representative has been doing admirable work in her position. Also, while I may be criticizing the board as a whole, I recognize that not all individuals on the board share a similar mindset with those who voted in favour of closing South Hazelton Elementary.

I have included some relevant statistics for the Hazelton area. This information can be sourced through the BC stats agency.

-The worst in BC for non-completion of high school at 71%.

For comparison - Kitimat is at 30%. Terrace is at 45%. In District 54-Smithers is at 8%. (Eight percent)

-Fifth worst in BC for below standard Math at Gr. 4 and Gr. 7.
-46% of students are reading below standard at Gr. 4 and Gr. 7.
-Highest percentage of single parent families in BC at 42%
-28% of families here have an income of less than 20,000 dollars.
-Second highest First Nation’s population in BC at 70%.

The Board of Education and District 82 together, have demonstrated a remarkable lack of insight and courage with their decision to close this exceptional school. The decision to reduce the level of education funding for the Hazelton area- further displays a disregard for the dire circumstances that are known to exist in these communities.

Don Intermela
Special services assistant-Student Support Services.
Proud Parent
Resident of South Hazelton, B.C.

Editor Note: A Video of the Trustee's discussion following the closure decision with the subsequent discussion related in the above article (the insignificance of the $200,000 in relation to the budget) along with the lengthy discussion on the Nechako PAC having to foot the $2,437 playground equipment installation bill, can be watched HERE.

See discussion and voting to close schools HERE