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School closures proposed for Summerland and Penticton

Report to school board suggests closing 3 schools and turning middle schools into elementary schools
A proposal before the Okanagan Skaha School Board calls for closing two elementary schools in Penticton and one in Summerland. In addition, the proposal calls for converting the three middle schools to elementary schools. The proposed changes are the result of declining enrolment over the past two decades. (John Arendt - Summerland Review)

Staff at the Okanagan Skaha School District have recommended school closures in order to cope with cost pressures affecting the school district.

The recommendation came from the Long-Range Facilities Planning Process and is based on a 10-year planning horizon.

At present, the school district has an enrolment of 5,741 students, a decrease of 36 per cent since 2001. Penticton schools are at 82 per cent of capacity, while Summerland schools are at 69 per cent of capacity. The Ministry of Education and Child Care’s facilities guidelines identify 95 per cent as a usage target.

“Due to inefficient use of school space (capacity), the district faces annual unfunded inflationary cost pressures of over $1 million,” a report from the school district read. “These financial pressures result in a reduction in programs and services to students on a year after year basis.”

While there is population growth in Summerland and Penticton, this growth is not expected to bring significant changes to school enrolment figures in the coming years. Within the next 10 years, the projected enrolment increase is between 160 and 300 students.

The proposal recommended by school district staff is to transition to an elementary and secondary school model, rather than the middle school model which is in place at present.

Under the proposed changes, Giant’s Head Elementary School in Summerland, Carmi Elementary School in Penticton and Parkway Elementary School in Penticton would be closed. In addition, Summerland Middle School, Kettle Valley Middle School and Skaha Lake Middle School would become elementary schools.

Under this proposal, Summerland’s two elementary schools would accommodate students from Kindergarten to Grade 6, while Summerland Secondary School would house Grades 7 to 12.

In Penticton, the elementary schools would have Kindergarten to Grade 7, while the city’s two high schools would have Grades 8 to 12.

The transition to the new model would take place over a three-year transition, with the new model in place in the 2026-2027 school year.

School district staff said the move away from the middle school model will also result in some changes to continue to meet the needs of students in middle school grades.

“We are confident that a transition to elementary/secondary model can and will continue to support the middle school students,” the school district report read.

School district staff also considered a status quo model, with no changes to school configuration, but did not support this option because of the financial pressures on the school district.

Under provincial regulations, school districts are not allowed to run deficit budgets, nor are they allowed to impose a per student surcharge to make up budgetary shortfalls.

The report recommending the school closures was presented to the school board at a special meeting on Jan. 23. A special business committee meeting will be held on Jan. 25, when the recommendations will be reviewed and discussed by the school board.

At the next school board meeting on Jan. 31, the board will decide whether to move forward with public consultation.

John Arendt

About the Author: John Arendt

John Arendt has worked as a journalist for more than 30 years. He has a Bachelor of Applied Arts in Journalism degree from Ryerson Polytechnical Institute.
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