I have read, watched and listened with interest the continuing discussions about education in this area. I have seen passionate and articulate citizens working together to find solutions and generating new ideas to support education in their communities. School board trustees have worked tirelessly under very difficult circumstances to try and find options and funding. School District staff have expressed their concern and shown their dedication to their students. Even with all of this hard work the School District is still left with a large deficit, communities are worried about losing their schools and parents wonder what kind of education their child will receive.
I have been asked what my views are on the education crisis in this area. Firstly I will say that I have the greatest respect for the elected school trustees who represent their constituents. It is they who have been given the very difficult task of running an education system in a rural area with limited funds. I support them in their work and I am always willing to discuss any role I can take with the provincial government on their behalf. I understand that they are in a financial predicament.
They are looking at a 1.75 million dollar shortfall and limited options on how to deal with it. I applaud the trustees in having two community meetings to talk to parents and students about how they think the problems can be addressed. With over 500 people in Rossland attending their community meeting and almost 200 people in Castlegar there is no doubt that people are passionate and determined to fight for their schools. Whatever decisions the school trustees make in the next few weeks I think that it has been shown that all sides are committed to try and find solutions.
As the provincial representative for this area I have been a part of an opposition caucus that has been discussing rural school funding issues for many years. My colleague, Robin Austin, is our critic for Education within the NDP Caucus and he has been discussing the very problems we are seeing in Kootenay West and holding the various education ministers responsible. I have explained to him our concerns in this constituency as well. He and I will be continuing to fight for rural schools once the legislature returns in February.
The provincial government funding that school districts receive, and in particular, rural school districts, is simply not enough. Since 2001 when funding formulas changed in BC, rural school districts have had difficulties balancing their budget while also attending to community needs. Distances between communities, mountainous terrain, weather, bussing, declining enrollments have all made providing education in areas like the West Kootenays a challenge. I am committed to work with the School Board trustees and to work with my colleague, the Education critic, to fight for changes within the Legislature.