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South Okanagan trustees get last word on school (un)closures

Okanagan-Skaha School District trustees discuss the outcome of the past 10 months of discussions relating to school closures at West Bench Elementary and Trout Creek Elementary Schools.
July 06, 2016 - 8:00 PM

'MY FEAR IS, WHAT HAPPENS TO THE MONEY AFTER THE ELECTION?'

PENTICTON - Okanagan Skaha school trustees are happy last week’s last-minute funding grants were approved for the district’s two schools slated for closure, but question the process and the reasons behind the province’s sudden generosity.

School board Chair Linda Van Alphen says she’s happy the district’s two schools slated for closure - West Bench and Trout Creek Elementary - were approved for funding, but feels the timing of the province’s offer should have come sooner.

“If, as our MLAs have stated, this was something being worked on for a long time, then the school district should have been made aware of it. Relationships have been strained to the limit,” she says.

SD 67 Chair Linda Van Alphen.
SD 67 Chair Linda Van Alphen.
Image Credit: Contributed

Van Alphen also noted the two schools will continue to be underutilized unless there is substantial growth in the school age populations in both areas, adding she believes the ministry will continue pushing the capacity issue, asking for higher enrolments in fewer schools.

She says a common feeling among educators is the belief urban schools will pay the price for low rural enrolments precipitated by the Rural Education Enhancement Fund.

Van Alphen says it will take some time over the summer as human resources staff work with teachers and support staff to repost positions reopened by the school closure rescindment announcement.

Van Alphen says all but two of the administrators reassigned over the past few months will remain in their new assignments. Jeff Redden, previously reassigned to Giants Head Elementary School will remain at Trout Creek Elementary School and Kelly Jones, reassigned to Carmi Elementary, will go to Giants Head Elementary. She says Superintendent Wendy Hyer will decide who will be appointed principal at Carmi and West Bench Elementary.

Trustee Ginny Manning echoed similar feelings, saying she found it difficult not to be cynical in believing the funds to support the province’s two initiatives  - the return of administrative savings and the Rural Education Enhancement Fund - were not available 10 months ago when the school closure debate began.

“I think it is deplorable that communities, staff, students, trustees and senior staff had to go through months of angst before the government saw fit to provide these ‘special purpose funds,’” she says, noting many damaging things were said and relationships strained during the closure debate.

SD Trustee Ginny Manning.
SD Trustee Ginny Manning.
Image Credit: Contributed

Manning also said the funding did not address the reasons behind the decision to close the two schools, but expressed optimism the schools would eventually fill up as the communities of West Bench and Trout Creek get renewed growth, as predicted by local politicians.

Trustee Shelley Clarke says she found the process frustrating and exasperating, wondering why the money wasn’t available at the beginning of the school closure discussions.

“Most of the parents I hear from are extremely angry and frustrated with the government, as they invested a lot of time and resources in the issue,” she says.

SD 67 Trustee Shelley Clarke.
SD 67 Trustee Shelley Clarke.
Image Credit: Contributed

“As trustees, we’ve asked for sustainable and predictable funding, and I believe this announcement sets a dangerous precedent for the government. It’s political electioneering at its finest. My fear is, what happens to the money after the election? Will this money disappear after two years?” she asks, adding declining enrolment will continue as long as the area continues to lose well paying, family supporting jobs.


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