B.C. Education Minister Rob Fleming.
Columnist Mike Smyth writes about possible Vancouver school closures.Back when Christy Clark was premier, her then-governing Liberals took a political shellacking for shutting down under-utilized public schools.The schools were typically closed because they were old and in poor repair, in addition to being only partly full because of declining enrolment.The Liberals decided it didn’t make sense to spend millions of dollars to repair near-empty schools. That was especially true when it came to expensive seismic upgrades to make sure crumbling, old schools didn’t collapse in earthquakes.One of the fiercest opponents of the Liberals’ school closures was Rob Fleming, then the NDP education critic on the opposition benches.“What is this about?” Fleming asked. “Is it about real-estate values and the sale of assets? Is it about power and control and usurping authority from local school districts?“They’re abandoning communities, abandoning neighbourhoods by taking schools right out of the heart of those communities.”That was 2016. Now it’s three years later and Fleming is the education minister, and the threat of school closures has returned in Vancouver. The Vancouver school board just issued a new capital plan that identifies 28 under-utilized schools at risk of collapse in an earthquake. None of the schools are formally scheduled to close. At least not yet.But some of the schools could be targeted for closure as the district seeks provincial cash for badly needed repairs and seismic upgrades. So what does Fleming say about possible school closures now?“There’s no pressure coming from the provincial government to close schools,” Fleming said Monday, adding the government has already approved $240 million in seismic upgrades without any school closures.But Fleming admitted the government did require the board to conduct an “inventory” of its current facilities.“That’s not pressure,” he said. “That’s just accounting for the condition of the facilities and what the utilization rates are.”The board’s capital plan makes clear that the province expects school districts to manage its buildings “in an effective, economic and efficient way.”Just like the Liberals before them, that leaves the New Democrats facing the possibility of spending millions of dollars to seismically upgrade schools that have empty classrooms due to declining enrolment.I asked Fleming if he can guarantee Vancouver parents that their kids’ school will not be shut down.“There is absolutely no pressure coming from the provincial government,” he repeated, dodging the question. “I will let the Vancouver school board speak to their process. I applaud Vancouver for committing to engaging with parents.”Translation: He can’t guarantee that schools won’t close.Fleming was pitiless in his attacks on the Liberals for shutting schools.But it’s easy to attack from the opposition benches, and much more difficult to make the tough choices in firstname.lastname@example.org/MikeSmythNewsCLICK HERE to report a typo. Is there more to this story? We’d like to hear from you about this or any other stories you think we should know about. Email email@example.com.</p