News this week that two elementary schools in the North Okanagan are being spared for another year represented a big win for passionate community members who fought to protect them. But a lot of work lies ahead to make sure that next year, we aren’t just back where we started.
Tuesday’s board meeting in Salmon Arm was like deja-vu. I remember covering the same story last spring, when Silver Creek Elementary was on the chopping block. The community rallied and school trustees backed off for one more year.
Well, Silver Creek was back on the chopping block again this year alongside Armstrong Elementary, and both managed to scrape by. The board will revisit the closures a year from now, in April 2017.
Whatever victory parents and community members felt after the board voted to keep it open must have been dampened by the lingering uncertainty ahead.
“To extend it another year… I know the stress I’ve been under, and it’s minuscule to the stress this community has been under,” trustee Debbie Evans said.
The community has been left hanging, unable to tell people interested in moving to the area if there will be a school there when they do.
There was tension at this week’s meeting, with some board members expressing frustration at seeing the process dragged out. Trustee Michel Saab pointed out the board hired an outside expert — at a considerable expense — to look at the entire district and create a long-term facilities report with recommendations for cost-savings. Now the board has initiated two task forces, one each for Armstrong and Salmon Arm, to review demographics, school configurations and catchment areas.
“So we don’t like what it (facilities report) says so we are going to do it again?” Saab said. “I’m a little embarrassed by this.”
Fellow trustee Jenn Wilchuk expressed a similar sentiment, noting hours have already been spent pouring over reports.
“We need to rip off the Band-aid,” she said.
Closing a school is not a decision to be made rashly, or lightly. Neither is it one to be made on emotions alone. I sincerely hope the board isn’t backing down for fear of making an unpopular decision, but that it fully intends to use this next year wisely: Doing its homework, gathering information and coming up with some creative solutions.
In a May 2015 interview with board chair Bobbi Johnson, she told me trustees are ‘trying to find innovative ways to make it work.’
By this time next year, I hope to be hearing a fresh conversation with bright new ideas. If we don’t, sparing these schools will have been for naught. Not only that, the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent dragging out their lifespan will come out of funding for valuable school programs and resources. Let’s not waste this time, and money, without having something to show for it in a year.
— Charlotte Helston is the Vernon reporter for iNFOnews.ca