Les Leyne: School’s seismic plans are in confusion

This is very normal for the Minister of Education (MOE) and what boards, superintendents, principals, vice principals, teachers, parents, students, PACs, and DPACs are subjected to every year. I’ve had children in the school district for the last 13 years, the MOE has no plan or schedule to determine which schools should be seismically upgraded or not. Last year, our board was tasked with balancing the district’s budget to $2.4 million on February 18. 3 months later the provincial government downloaded an extra $260k to the district’s deficit and they would have to find more cuts before the end of the year to balance the budget. Its an impossible position to be in where the provincial government can do whatever they want and the board must respond or risk being fired for not balancing the budget. School districts are the scapegoats of the provincial government and their inability to manage their finances and an obvious example of how the government is trying to make boards of education look incompetent and promote private education as the solution. When in fact, the MOE and the provincial government are the ones that are incompetent. This is why parents and districts are asking for stable, predictable, and adequate funding for our schools. Click here to read the full article or read an excerpt below.

 

The story behind the sudden deferral last spring of the quake-proofing project for Shoreline Middle School got even more confusing Wednesday.

Maybe there’s a sensible, long-term plan to do seismic upgrades school-by-school around B.C. on a priority basis. But if there is, or was, it didn’t get the job done at Shoreline, and it’s hard to figure out why.

The Greater Victoria School District got in line with everyone else years ago for provincial seismic funding, and started getting projects approved. Last year was Shoreline’s turn at the top of the priority list. Based on a preliminary provincial approval, the district started planning to move the entire student body to the temporary swing school on Richmond Avenue for this year’s term.

Then in April, the ministry started asking questions about Shoreline’s enrolment, which was about 63 per cent of the school’s 424 capacity. That led to a change of heart by the ministry, and in May it notified the district the $4-million seismic upgrade would not be approved due to the low enrolment.

School-board documentation confirmed enrolment was the problem.

When staff asked the ministry what utilization rate would be required for approval, “it was suggested that a 95 per cent utilization rate for the school now and into the future … was a reasonable target.”

Education Minister Mike Bernier was clear as well that low enrolment was the main reason for the deferral. High-capacity schools needed to be the focus for prioritizing seismic upgrades, he said.

The principal wrote to disappointed parents also confirming the reason.

“The decision not to proceed with a seismic upgrade is due to our school’s small enrolment. This decision came as a surprise to all of us, as we have been fully engaged in planning for this move.”

Bernier also took the absurd position that the project wasn’t cancelled; it just wasn’t happening. The district adopted that as well in an FAQ that was published.

“Q: Was Shoreline’s seismic upgrading cancelled?

“A: The ministry has not cancelled the seismic upgrade. At this time, the ministry has not approved the project moving forward. The ministry will review the project in future when the district has a long-term facilities plan in place.”

So it was startling to see a government email released by the New Democrat Opposition Wednesday that contradicts the previous stance.

It was written by an education ministry staff member to government communication staffers on June 21, just a few weeks after the Shoreline project was called off.

“There are no capacity targets for seismic upgrades,” she wrote. “The 95 per cent threshold is for large urban districts only, it is a district-wide target, and applies only when looking for new schools or expansions. It is NOT a seismic target.

“We have discussions with districts to ensure we are not upgrading schools that may close. That’s why we ask districts with declining enrolment to take a hard look and prioritize their seismic upgrades.”

So the government initially OK’d the seismic upgrade, then grew concerned about low enrolment and withheld approval, telling everyone exactly why.

Then a month later, a ministry official emphatically said there are no capacity targets for seismic upgrades.

Then in September, Bernier “clarified” the situation. Because of “confusion and misinformation,” he announced he was “getting rid of utilization targets as part of our school-investment process.”

He said: “Student safety is key and that is why utilization targets have never been a requirement for seismic upgrades.”

That confirmed the message in the June email, but contradicted the thrust of the ministry’s position when the Shoreline project was cancelled.

Premier Christy Clark specifically promised the Shoreline project prior to the 2013 election as part of a $584-million school seismic program, but NDP Leader John Horgan said Wednesday she wasn’t telling the truth.

Bernier issued a statement Wednesday saying the NDP was wrong.

“We have completed 155 schools so far. We move forward on a case-by-case basis — not according to any hard targets.”

The Victoria district had a good seismic record, but there are zero seismic projects underway at the moment, because the Shoreline cancellation — for whatever reason — came too late to change plans.

– See more at: http://www.timescolonist.com/opinion/columnists/les-leyne-school-s-seismic-plans-are-in-confusion-1.2428105#sthash.e25tANeA.dpuf

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