POP: School Closure Moratorium

POP: Yes
Res #: POP 9-07A
Number: 9
Year: 2007
Midterm: No
Expired: Yes
Responses Received: No
Departments: Saskatchewan Learning

POP No. 9-07A
School Closure Moratorium

WHEREAS, school division boards have only been in place for one year and are making critical decisions that will affect the long-term viability of rural Saskatchewan; and

WHEREAS many communities have potential for significant economic development and others are currently experiencing that growth; and

WHEREAS the provincial government is spending money to promote rural Saskatchewan to attract investment and people;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that SARM pressure the provincial government to establish a five-year moratorium on all school closures, except in cases where the local affected communities agree to close the school.

Response from Honourable Deb Higgins, Minister of Learning: 

As you noted in your letter, over the past number of years our system of education has undergone fundamental changes to provide an equitable education for Saskatchewan students no matter where they live.  These changes have included the restructuring of school divisions, simplifying our system of school operating grants and providing education property tax relief.   

In 2004, our government recommended that as school divisions go through the restructuring transition period they wait until the new boards were in place to determine what resources would be available and if it was still necessary to close a school.  The moratorium on school closures that was put in place in the context of restructuring was voluntary and applied to any school closure identified that a board of education might have considered for the summer of 2005 or 2006.  Boards of education retained the final legal authority to close a school and they considered it necessary to do so.  These boards a locally elected and make their decisions based on their analysis of the overall needs and circumstances of their particular school division. 

The Education Act, 1995, outlines the timelines and procedures a board must follow when considering the closure of a school.  Boards must undertake public discussion and the residents of the affected community and others concerned have the opportunity through the public process to discuss all options and implications with the board before and final decisions are made.   

Living through the process of a school closure is difficult.  It is hard on students, parents, teachers and the community.  It is also hard on boards of education that are responsible for making the decision to close a school.  While we understand and empathize with everyone going through the grieving process of possibly saying goodbye to a school, we know that decisions on school closures have always been made based on providing the best education for Saskatchewan children.   

Ensuring rural students receive a high quality education has always been and remains a high priority for the provincial government.  Restructuring has provided the foundation for changes to the calculation of the school operating grants.  In the 2006-07 budget, we introduced a simpler system and additional changes are being implemented for 2007-08.  Part of this includes a review of the rural factors in consultation with the school divisions to ensure these factors are the most effective way to support rural school divisions.   

The Government of Saskatchewan has long provided additional support to isolated schools through the Idolated Schools Factor.  As you may have heard, this factor has been replaced by the new Small Remote Schools and Geographic factors.  The new Small Remote Schools Factor provides additional support to small schools that are more than 40 kilometres to the nearest school, ensuring that funding is better targeted at supporting schools of necessity.  The new Geographic Factor recognizes the significant, legitimate cost differences associated with operating a geographically dispersed school division.  The grant recognition under the new Small Remote Schools and Geographic factors combined will be $3.8 million greater than the Isolated Schools Factor they replace, which was $16.4 million in 2006-07.   

Today, thanks to the hard work of Saskatchewan people, our economy is re-energized and there are now more jobs than ever before in our history.  The Province of Saskatchewan is committed to ensuring that today’s Saskatchewan families, including families from rural communities, benefit from our strong economy and making our province the best place for young people to live, work and build strong futures right here at home.   

One of the ways we are doing this is working without our 10 economic regions in the province on how to best build the economic strength of our regions and our local communities with the power of co-operation.   

We are also continuing to move forward through the implementation of the 220 recommendations included in the Action Committee on the Rural Economy’s report on enhancing the rural economy.  Over two thirds of these recommendation shave been fulfilled to date.  Focus in the coming year will include the importance of community and building the capacity for small business and entrepreneurs in rural Saskatchewan.  

We are also providing a climate where our economy can thrive and grow.  For example, the Government of Saskatchewan has introduced the 10 year, $5 billion Transportation for Economic Advantage strategy to fundamentally realign Saskatchewan’s transportation network to meet the current and future needs of the province’s thriving export-based economy.  Over the last year, business tax reforms were introduced that make Saskatchewan’s corporate tax structure one of the most competitive and business-friendly in Canada.  This will lead to more job creation and employment opportunities in communities across this great province.   

Major investments are being made in Saskatchewan by national and international companies in industries that are important to communities across this province including oil and gas, diamonds, uranium, value-added agriculture, ethanol and potash.  The Government of Saskatchewan’s external trade missions and promotions, and the work of the Saskatchewan Trade and Export Partnership, will continue to benefit local and regional economies across Saskatchewan.  To further develop green industries that have the capacity to support rural economies, we are carrying out a comprehensive plan to develop bio-fuels, continuing leadership in carbon sequestration and wind power development, implementing a plan for the mandated use of ethanol and taking further measures toward our vision of agro forestry.   

The process of change has been difficult for everyone involved and we know that citizens are concerned about how these changes will personally impact them and those they care about.  Please know that we are doing everything we can to support all Saskatchewan students and that these changes will help ensure that all our children can fulfill their potential and take their place in Saskatchewan’s prosperous future.