Central Okanagan schools facing extreme space crunch

Kelowna Secondary School on Raymer Avenue is seen in this undated file photo. The Central Okanagan School District needs another high school to accommodate growth.

KELOWNA - There’s still challenges but the Central Okanagan school board is going into 2018 in pretty good shape, the school board chair says.

The district has avoided most of the of hiring problems plaguing other school districts as they rushed to fill hundreds of teaching positions created by the B.C. Teachers Federation 2016 win in court over the provincial government.

“We have a few things going for us,” Moyra Baxter says. “We do have the UBC Okanagan teacher training program, so we have people coming out of university and there’s a school district right outside the door where they can apply. And this is a place people want to come to.”

More of a problem has been an extreme lack of space as the district absorbed 128 new teachers, but Baxter says the new provincial government has so far put up the money needed to make the changes, giving it $12.6 million for the new hires and another $3 million to create 59 new teaching spaces.

“It’s been a huge endeavour and we’re still incredibly short of space, in fact that’s our biggest challenge,” Baxter says.

To that end, the district is pushing for a new high school in the Glenmore area, another middle school in West Kelowna and the replacement of Rutland middle and Glenmore elementary schools, she adds.

At the same time, Baxter says the school district is growing, which compounds the space crunch, although she says that’s not all a bad thing.

“A growing district has challenges but it also gives you more opportunities for programming which is a good thing,” Baxter says.

So far, she adds, the new NDP-Green coalition government has been friendlier to primary education than their predecessors.

“They made it clear right from the start that K-12 was a top priority and they’ve already made some significant funding decisions,” Baxter says, adding they have shown themselves amenable to building more schools and alleviating the space crunch.

The Central Okanagan school district has over 22,500 students in 43 schools serviced by 3,000 employees with a budget of over $250 million.

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