The provincial department of education has changed the way they fund small schools, again.
Only two weeks ago, when members of the Tri-County Regional School Board were deciding whether to close Digby area schools, the Department of Education was saying that Barton and Westport Consolidated Schools would no longer qualify for small school funding.
"We were going on the information we had at the time from the department," said TCRSB chair Donna Tidd Thursday, April 12. "After we made the decisions, we find out the department has changed their mind and has grandfathered the schools."
Tidd says the board, which voted unanimously to close Westport Village School, probably would have reached the same decision with or without the funding.
The board voted to keep Barton open despite the loss in funding.
Barton and Westport qualified in years past for funding known as the small school supplement.
In March the department quietly replaced that with a grant for small isolated schools, and said neither Barton nor Westport qualified any longer.
Department of Education spokesman Peter McLaughlin said on March 10 that both formulas resulted in the same total amount of funding—about $18 million—but the new formula, he said then, spread the monies out over 64 schools.
Previously only 44 schools qualified under the small school supplement.
Now the department says 98 schools qualify for the grant.
The old program provided up to $150,000 for schools with less than 100 students.
The new program brings geography into the equation—schools must be at least 30 minutes from the nearest equal school.
Barton and Westport therefore did not qualify.
Among those schools that do qualify, any elementary grades with less than 20 students or high school grades with less than 40 students, or a high school with less than 500 students will receive funding for additional positions.
A Department of Education press release on Wednesday, April 11 now lists Barton and Westport as schools who qualify for the small isolated school grant.
That press release also indicates the government has allocated $4 million more to the program for a total of $22 million.
The department of education has not answered questions about why the schools have been grandfathered now and why the increase in funding now.
"It's good news," says Tidd. "It's just aggravating."
McLaughlin was not able to say in early March just how the funding change affects local schools but hoped to have that information for the Courier by March 17.
Late in March McLaughlin said staff at the department were busy working on the budget and wouldn't have those numbers until after the budget.
The budget was delivered on April 3.