SUMMERLAND - The District of Summerland is hoping their new concept for school administration will be a pilot project for small municipalities across the province.
The municipality says in a media release it is keenly aware of the value of schools in smaller communities following the recent school closure battle. Trout Creek Elementary school in Summerland was slated for closure until the province came through with last minute funding to keep it open.
Council is proposing the municipality engage in a pilot project with the province to merge administrative services of Summerland with that of a new, local school board.
The concept proposes to create a school board model similar to one that existed prior to 1996 when school boards in Summerland and Penticton were amalgamated.
However, the new concept would see municipal council and the proposed Summerland school board share finance and administrative services, works staff, equipment and facilities, rather than operating two separate administrations.
Summerland Mayor Peter Waterman says he doesn’t believe the concept is in practice anywhere else in British Columbia at the present time, but notes there are situations where some services are shared. These situations, however, have not demonstrated substantial savings.
He says the idea came about partly as a result of last year’s school closure issues, noting the municipality is not only looking for more local control over school decisions but also to try the concept as a pilot program in terms of how things can function.
“There are many other communities in the same boat. This could prove to be an excellent model to make sure facilities are available to kids,” Waterman says.
Summerland council and mayor believe there will be substantial savings realized from not having to double up on school administration, maintenance equipment and other area where duplication currently exists.
“There will be substantial hurdles to overcome in terms of labour, union negotiations, and school district operating differences,” he says, noting the Summerland proposal is opening the door to discussion. The municipality plans to discuss the matter with Education Minister Mike Bernier at the next Union of B.C. Municipalities convention taking place at the end of the month.
“When rural funding was announced, one of the things under consideration was the school’s economic impact on the community. Schools are an integral part of a small community and when you take those away the community loses economically,” he says.
The District of Summerland would be looking after two elementary one high school and one middle school under the concept. Waterman feels the school district’s operation could be integrated with potentially an extra hire in financing. He feels staffing increases wouldn’t be substantial.
“It would change our municipal focus somewhat, but not one out of our mandate, part of which is to enhance the community’s strengths. Our schools are integral to our well being,” he says.
If the municipality finds political support for the idea, Waterman hopes changes will begin within the next election cycle, which is two years away.
“It’s got to be done reasonably quickly to have an impact on our schools. We’re pretty committed to seeing if this has the favour of government, although we recognize the province has been moving towards amalgamation of school districts, something that hasn’t worked in Summerland. It may not prevent every school closure, but we do believe it’s a way of creating substantial savings,” he says.
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