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School cost savings ‘not readily available’

Need for resources: Gilbert Institute is a candidate for closure (File photograph)

The financial viability of reorganising the island’s primary school system remains unknown as the Bermuda Government-commissioned Score report indicates it was “unable to make an assessment of potential cost savings”.

According to the school reorganisation (Score) report, commissioned to help address shortcomings within Bermuda’s education system and identify potential cost savings through school consolidation and closure, much of the financial information required was “not readily available”.

The report reads: “In some cases, there was no record at all, such as personal funds spent by educators and parents.

“The data collected indicated the need for funds to be invested towards the upgrade and repairs to buildings and equipment.”

This week, four schools were marked out for potential closures — St David’s Primary School, Heron Bay Primary School, Prospect Primary School and Gilbert Institute. The Ministry of Education is responsible for a budget of $111 million and the report “strongly recommends” that a strategic financial plan be developed to take into account “all resources that are required for 21st century learning and to improve the quality of the student educational experience”.

According to the report: “A preponderance of qualitative data indicated that staff are using their own finances to purchase resources to support instruction and/or programmes for which they are responsible.”

The data indicated that the majority of schools need improvement in four study factor criteria: school utilisation, financial resources, safety and accessibility, and IT infrastructure.

Gilbert Institute, one of four schools identified as a potential candidate for closure or consolidation, was singled out for its “notable need for resources”.

Designated as the “primary school to service deaf and hard-of-hearing students”, the report said that “most funding to ensure the success of the special programmes comes out of the pockets of the staff.

“Qualitative data suggests that this has been the case for the past 27 years.”

Meanwhile, some 15 of the 18 primary schools in the report (83 per cent) were under-resourced by the Ministry of Education. The schools scored one or two out of five indicating that this is an area “requiring serious attention”.

All 18 schools were found to be in need of resources for instruction, programmes or building improvements.

Suggestions made in the report for potential consolidation and closure were generated after the individual school scores were totalled. Possible “scenarios” also looked to resolve “overutilised” schools to reduce enrolment. School utilisation refers to school buildings matching best practice expectations for recommended student/space ratio.

The top priorities identified as a means of improving the “quality of the student experience” were: school utilisation, classroom capacity, financial resources, financial viability, building condition and range of programmes.

Other issues to be addressed are: safety and accessibility, provision of special services and transportation, which is marked as low priority with regards to students who may have to commute farther should their schools be closed.