Education minister weighs in on school district's long-term plans

As the Richmond School District is going through a public consultation process about their draft Long-Range Facilities Plan (LRFP), the Ministry of Education announced on Friday a “new approach” to long-term capital planning.

In a letter to boards of education, Rob Fleming, the Minister of Educaiton, said the process should focus on educational needs, public consultation and takes away the requirement to have the plan approved to prove the necessity for capital improvements.

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“We will no longer expect LRFPs to be evidentiary documents that are needed to justify individual project funding requests,” Fleming said in his letter addressed to all boards of education. The focus of the LRFP, he added, should be broader than “just enrolment and capacity utilization.”

The letter was posted on the B.C. School Trustees’ Association’s website.

The letter goes on to say changes to the LRFP guidelines give boards “flexibility and space” for their wide-ranging vision.

This shift in attitude was reflected in comments made by the minister to the Richmond News last week when he was at Mitchell elementary.

“We’ve made it very clear to school districts both through our operating funding as well as new instructions around the LRFP, our government is not interested in closing schools,” Fleming told the Richmond News last week. “We want districts to focus on making good educational decisions.”

The guidelines for the LRFP published on the ministry website, however, do still give school closures as one possible future scenario when trying to manage facilities.

Previously, school districts were told their schools needed to be 95-per-cent full before they could get capital dollars for seismic upgrading.

Richmond school board chair Ken Hamaguchi said the letter from the Minister of Education that they are taking capacity utilization – how full schools are – “off the table” doesn’t change the draft LRFP very much.

“What we decide to do with our schools will be based on a number of variables (i.e., impact on budgets, education programming, etc.),” Hamaguchi said in an email. “We appreciate the government’s announcement, but capacity utilization would never be the sole reason for us making our school decisions.”

The school district has a number of “choice” programs, like French immersion and Montessori, as well as support programs, for students with children, for autistic students and students who have problems coping in mainstream classes.

These are outlined in detail in the LRFP as part of the considerations as the school district looks to manage its facilities into the future.

The Richmond School District’s draft Long-Range Facilities Plan is posted at sd38.bc.ca.

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