In a few days, trustees for the Okanagan Skaha School District are going to be voting on a motion to rescind the closure orders for Westbench and Trout Creek Elementary Schools.
This is a last ditch attempt to keep the schools open, coming after the board of education gave third and final reading to the closure order on March 30. We applaud the school board for working with parents and being open to investigating every possibility, but don’t be surprised if the motion to rescind fails to pass. The school district is saving about $1.2 million in their 2016-17 budget through closing McNicoll Park Middle School, Westbench and Trout Creek.
If any one of those schools was allowed to remain open, that would mean the district would have to cut $360,000 to $400,000 more from other areas to make next year’s budget balance.
As Secretary-Treasurer Bonnie Roller Routley has said, that’s not an amount that can be cut without substantial effects on the educational system.
School closures are probably inevitable, if not now, then later. Neighbourhood demographics are always shifting, and while the drop in enrolment that has been going on for years may be plateauing, it will be years before it increases appreciably.
The trustees and school district staff did months of consultation before choosing the three schools. Trustee Ginny Manning summed it up best when she said that heartbreaking decisions had to be made — there was never even a slim chance that their decision would meet with approval from all quarters.
Also, closing the three schools isn’t necessarily the end of this discussion. If enrolment continues to drop and/or the Okanagan Skaha School District budget continues to shrink, closures may have to be revisited.
The school board needs to continue to plan for the long-term interests of all students, current and future, not just the immediate desires of one neighbourhood or another.