OLIVER - The province’s recently announced Rural Education Enhancement Fund has saved Osoyoos Secondary School from closure for the next two years, but Okanagan Similkameen School District Board trustees echo sentiments similar to those expressed by their Penticton counterparts as they assess a future still uncertain for the district’s education system.
District 53 school board chair Maireze Tarr was pleased to see the province initiate the Rural Education Enhancement Fund, noting school boards have been advocating stable and sustainable funding since she became a trustee 14 years ago.
She is hoping the funding will last longer than the two years the district has been approved for.
“We hope this is not just a band-aid but a real change in the funding formula for rural districts, and the ministry is recognizing there is no more money to be cut from our already strapped budgets,” she says.
Fellow trustee Robert Zandee says the last month or so caught most trustees off balance, echoing Tarr’s comments about the advocacy by school boards for stable and predictable funding.
“When we go into a process being told one thing and then having the rules change on us mid-process it seriously undermines the efforts of all those involved,” Zandee says.
“In the trustees’ mind our mandate is to provide the maximum educational benefit within the fiscal parameters that we are given. The back of the napkin emergency funding scenario we have seen in the last few months is pretty transparent, and pretty unfortunate as it does not support good educational policy,” he says.
“I don’t believe anyone thinks that this is anything but an election year strategy and quite honestly, in that respect, it is a very valid one,” Zandee adds.
Zandee says the funding, while appreciated by the board, came with a lack of respect and communication from the government.
“Many boards are worried about where the government may come back to us, asking us to cut our budgets, essentially paying for new money,” he says.
Zandee says whether the funding will result in under utilized schools that stumble along at the taxpayers’ expense remains to be seen. He says with lower enrolments, it becomes more and more difficult to offer meaningful course offerings.
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