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REPORTING · 7th February 2010
Walter McFarlane
Concerns about school closures are a topic across the Northwest. On Friday, January 29th, parents in Prince George, British Columbia were set for a peaceful protest in front of the school board offices.

“People in Prince George are very, very upset because they see that number of schools closing, 14, as a much bigger thing than the number of kids in the school district. They see it as a lack of funding going through the school system especially to support rural schools, small schools in rural communities,” said Education Critic Robin Austin.

Austin was unable to provide information on just how many schools were closing across the province but he pointed out that 130 schools have closed their doors since the government changed. A majority of these were in Rural Communities.

Austin explained this funding formula behind schools changed and now programs funded in the past were no longer receiving the funding they needed. “It didn’t take into account the extra costs that were in small schools and small rural communities so they lost that block funding that helps maintain small rural schools. It makes small schools less economic. That’s why more little schools have closed than big schools,” said Austin.

With the plans in Prince George, the BC Government will set a record for number of schools closed in a single school district. 11 have already closed and 14 more were scheduled to close in March as of January 30th.

As reported in the Prince George Citizen found here, the protest went considerably well and the protesters cheered on the Olympic Torch as it ran past. They were not there to boo the torch.

But with 14 schools planned to close in Prince George, what does this mean for Kitimat which is smaller and may no longer have one of it's industries.

“What the decision of the board was: No school closures would take place in Kitimat for the next year. In 2011, we would start looking at changing the landscape of the school, we might be going to a middle school concept and that would be a 7, 8, 9 class that would go to the west wing of the high school completely separated from the seniors,” said Barry Pankhurst, chair of the School Board of Trustees.

However, this is not the plan for Terrace. According to Pankhurst, two schools in Terrace and one in Hazelton are on notice of closure for the coming September. ET Kenny and Cassy Hall are on notice of closure in Terrace, with the French Emerson program from Cassy Hall moving to Mountainview Elementary School, the school which was built but never opened in Terrace. In Hazelton, South Hazelton Elementary is also on notice of closure.

Pankhurst anticipated there would be 70-80 further school closures around the province in 2010. One other concern the school board chair had was the demand placed on the School Districts to go green. However, the government has made cuts to the money necessary for the schools to go green, the Annual Facilities Grant which has a serious shortfall. This grant is usually between 1.5 and 1.7 million dollars.

However, it would take $10,000,000 to bring Mount Elizabeth up to standard, 4 million dollars for Kildala, and 3 million dollars for both Nechako and Roy Wilcox.