Despite a school board report projecting a staggering 55 per cent increase in school age children over the coming years on the West Shore, Minister of Education Margaret MacDiarmid told the Sooke School Board last week that the ministry would not fund the planned two new high schools in Langford and Colwood.
This is an indefensible position for the provincial government to take. The community’s innovative plan in the works for years has been to sell the aging Belmont school, avoiding costly seismic and other upgrades. The sale would also contribute an estimated $30 million of the $80 million required to build two new schools.
School board chair Wendy Hobbs indicated her concern and disappointment when the minister said that she was not interested in the business plan that involved the selling off of Belmont. The ministry might fund one school but not two.
Hobbs further indicated surprise for the length of time the ministry has taken to review the proposed business plan with no earlier expressions of concern.
Hobbs said she was very surprised by the disregard of West Shore family needs and this business like collaborative effort between two municipalities.
The school board’s Matrix Planning consultant report is sobering. It is a detailed neighbourhood by neighbourhood analysis, not a spurious or whimsical statistical projection.
With 55 per cent student growth, it says that the two new high schools will be full as soon as they are built. Anyone who has been in Belmont secondary knows it is a deteriorating facility.
West Shore families have been put on hold long enough. They need and expect safe and modern facilities for their children to thrive and succeed in school.
The minister of education needs to think more like a business person and an entrepreneur. MacDiarmid should be concerned about being out of touch with community needs and the opportunities this innovative business plan provides. This plan is creative and inventive and already includes a free playing field built by Langford.
Langford Mayor Stew Young and Colwood Mayor Dave Saunders are both concerned, and want to know how the ministry justifies this decision, penalizing one of B.C.’s highest growth areas?
The economic development of the West Shore is dependent upon the provision of adequate and quality local education for families and employers. Perhaps it is time for West Shore students, families and businesses to take action until common sense can prevail.
The district’s innovative business plan saves considerable taxpayer money and builds upon the ministry’s own strategic direction toward multipurpose neighbourhood learning centres.
Contrary to his cabinet colleague and political bedfellow MacDairmid, Liberal leadership candidate Kevin Falcon indicated on Monday that if premier, he would “take a second look” at the plan for two new high schools that he believes is “innovative and worth consideration.”
Surely all other Liberal leadership candidates will step up and share Falcon’s views to invest in the families and the future of the West Shore.
To have your say visit www.emilycarrwestshore.ca or contact 250-478-1130.
—Dan Spinner is the CEO of the WestShore Chamber of Commerce.