School’s fate hangs in balance

Parents are hoping the closure of Oliver’s Tuc-el-Nuit Elementary School will be taken off the table as early as Wednesday.

Parents are hoping the closure of Oliver’s Tuc-el-Nuit Elementary School will be taken off the table as early as Wednesday.

Since the province announced funding will not change for this year, the school board has put a recommendation forward that would save the school — for the time being. Rachel Allenbrand, a parent of a student at TEN and a spokesperson for the group Save Oliver Schools, said they have been allowed time to speak at Wednesday’s meeting. She hopes the trustees will take the closure off the table instead of at a special meeting that was scheduled on April 27.

“The funding is there, the enrolment is there, why are we even looking at closure right now?” said Allenbrand.

Over 400 parents have come together joining a Facebook group called Save Oliver Schools. The parents have gathered over 200 signatures on a petition asking the school board to take the closure off the table, and have received the support of the Town of Oliver and Osoyoos Indian Band.

The motion to close the school came out of a five-year capital plan to help guide the school board in managing facilities in light of declining enrolment and uncertain future funding that suggested something must be done or the board could face a potential deficit of $875,843. In January the board voted to put their school closure policy in place. Since then the province funding protection was granted to schools for 2011/12.

Now what was to be a vote to close Tuc-el-Nuit at the April 27 school board meeting has changed to a recommendation to withdraw from the consultation process for the possible closure of the elementary school until such time that enrolment and/or funding significantly changes.

The agenda lists the following factors the recommendation is based on: the district’s funding is stable due to the continuation of funding protection; the preliminary budget and staffing processes provide confidence in the district’s ability to staff schools, maintain programs and manage facilities with current funds and updated enrolment projections that include kindergarten; and registrations show a more favourable forecast for most schools.

Allenbrand said she doesn’t see the enrolment of TEN being an issue in the future, and from figures the parents have collected along with information from other sources they see the numbers going upwards.

“I have it on some good authority that the Town of Oliver has confirmed some big businesses moving into town so I’m pretty optimistic that there will be more families moving here rather than moving out. Our town is not shrinking, it is definitely growing,” said Allenbrand.

The agenda briefing notes state that if the recommendation is passed, the district will need to closely monitor school enrolment across the district, adding the board would revisit the matter if there are any significant changes. Allenbrand said a number of parents have already said they would pull their kids from the district if the TEN closed.

“There is approximately 30 or 33 students that would be pulled out of the district if this happened, that we have confirmation of. I think it is more of the fact of the overcrowding, and it is easier for the children to fall through the cracks with the larger school. We would become the largest elementary school in the South Okanagan valley, if not the Okanagan Valley itself,” said Allenbrand.