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School District 5 officials discuss issues with education minister
Minister of Education, Peter Fassbender, met with School District 5 (SD5) Trustees after touring Mount Baker Secondary School (MBSS) in Cranbrook, Isabella Dicken Elementary School (IDES) in Fernie and Sparwood Secondary School (SSS) in Sparwood on April 22nd, 2014. He is the fourth Minister to tour MBSS in as many years.
According to SD5 Mount Baker Replacement Committee Chair, Chris Johns, the replacement of the aging high school as a Neighbourhood Learning Centre (NLC), an initiative designed to bring educational services and community resources together in a new high school building, was a key agenda item for the SD5 Board of Education to discuss with Minister Fassbender.
Mount Baker was identified five years ago as being over capacity with deteriorating conditions. According to Johns, it’s the number one priority replacement for the District.
“Frankly, we’ve done more work and more public consultation on this NLC initiative than any other District in the province, including those Districts who’ve been approved. We have key partnerships with the City of Cranbrook, Key City Theatre (KCT), our MLA Bill Bennett and most recently the Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK) and MP David Wilks. We just need a commitment from government to go ahead.”
Despite the pressing need for replacement of MBSS, there were a number of other issues brought up with Minister Fassbender including bargaining, trades training and co-governance. Adequate and sustainable funding was the top priority discussed.
According to SD5 Board Chair, Frank Lento, the overall provincial budget for education remains static, and that’s a problem.
“Both our student enrolment and the government’s funding remain pretty much unchanged year to year”, says Lento. “But every year the Board must make cuts to our budget in order to meet basic cost increases such as inflation, carbon offsets, BC hydro, Medical Services Plan (MSP) premiums and other mandatory benefit cost increases.” According to Lento, these cost increases –which remain unfunded by the provincial government—cost SD5 an additional one million dollars plus each year.
“While it’s necessary for government to exercise fiscal restraint, it’s still a choice as to where they invest the money they do have. Unfortunately, government appears to view education as a cost to be managed rather than a smart investment in our students to produce a stronger provincial economy.”