Letter: School utilization rate unfair

Dear Premier Christy Clark, Minister Mike Bernier (education) and John Yap (Richmond-Steveston MLA).

I am deeply disappointed in how this government is handling seismic upgrades for the schools in B.C. But I am most disappointed knowing that this arbitrary and unfair number of 95 per cent utilization is hurting our school and community in the rapidly developing city of Richmond.

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Living in an area of Richmond seeing growth and development, just on the outskirts of Steveston village, is an eye-opener. The main roads surrounding our school catchment are changing from detached houses to semi-detached homes and townhouses. This is not only happening here, but in most areas of Richmond.

I am worried that the 95 per cent utilization rate will force the closure of schools in areas that are currently densifying and will be needed in years to come. This seems a huge waste of resources to sell schools, or let schools fall out of repair, when they will be needed in the very near future. And yes, it’s not your government doing this, but it will be school boards forced to do this as government funding evaporates.

The 95 per cent utilization also hurts our special programs, whether it be music, art or spaces for students with special needs. This utilization rate ensures no extra space in schools for programs essential to our schools.

I am also concerned that the 95 per cent utilization rate blocks access to childcare spaces and preschools for working parents who desperately need them. As a government, you have flip-flopped on issues such as pre-K education and childcare, leaving parents desperate to find adequate spaces for their children. At our school, James McKinney elementary, we have a preschool and a before and after school care centre, both of which are vital to our school community and a valued service to parents. The 95 per cent utilization rate across our district will likely cut desperately-needed services such as these, as schools are amalgamated and kids pushed into packed schools — with no room for these essential services for children and their families.

I do not have my head in the sand, I realize a few schools may need to close in the face of declining enrollment or excessive seismic upgrades. 

That said, the high utilization rate your government is asserting for schools is an unfair number in currently developing areas. Reducing that number could go a long way to helping students and families in our city.

Ms. Clark, you ran on a “Families First” agenda and I implore you to do right by the children and families of B.C. and fund schools in our communities. And, as you are not fully-funding childcare or preschools, at least allow them to hold vital spaces in our schools to serve our school communities.

The equation for funding seismic upgrades doesn’t make sense in our rapidly changing city. I am calling on you to change your policy to include additional programming space and spaces leased to childcare and preschool centres and to immediately reduce the school utilization rate to allow for our rapidly developing city.

Michelle Li,

Richmond

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