Budget brings focus on closure

The proposed closing of Tuc-el-Nuit school in Oliver was unanimously seen by School District 53 trustees as one of the few options to cut their budget without much disturbance.

The proposed closing of Tuc-el-Nuit school in Oliver was unanimously seen by School District 53 trustees as one of the few options to cut their budget without much disturbance.

“I would have to say that of all of the four recommendations that were put forward to us, this is one of the most reasonable ones,” said Oliver trustee Tamela Edwards. “While I understand and have seen first hand the close community of Tuc-el-Nuit, I have to admit it is extravagant in our district, under present financial pressures, to continue to support two elementary schools in one community.”

School District 53 trustees are looking at options to help face a potential $875,843 deficit next year after learning the Ministry of Education has cutback on funding protection. Amalgamating Tuc-el-Nuit with Oliver Elementary School was one of four recommendations that received unanimous support from trustees to take to the next level in discussion. It is estimated $385,326 could be saved through the amalgamation. Both the principals at Tuc-el-Nuit and Oliver Elementary declined to make any comment on the issue.

“If we didn’t have a budget crisis we wouldn’t even be considering it, but we do have a budget crisis and this is a logical move,” said Keremeos trustee Myrna Coates.

The proposal in the SD53 capital plan notes some of the positives of amalgamating the schools, including putting all students in one school in Oliver, providing a broader scope of learning opportunities for students, especially for elective areas such as band and music, utilizing teacher expertise in specialized areas more effectively, increasing extracurricular opportunities, and exploring educational learning synergies between South Okanagan Secondary School and Oliver Elementary.

“When I look at the options presented to us this one appears to be the least painful or perhaps the most seamless as far as a fit. We wouldn’t be depriving any student of any educational experience or causing increased hardship to a community as far as travel,” said Oliver trustee Michael Petersen, who suggested the school district exploring keeping maintenance of the soccer fields at Tuc-el-Nuit.

Some of the challenges the proposal outlines includes the need for two portables for StrongStrart and perhaps preschool or Grades 6 and 7s. The proposal also states it would be a very tight fight if the schools amalgamate. As it stands there are 190 students at Tuc-el-Nuit and 262 in Oliver Elementary School — that adds up to two students over the Oliver Elementary capacity of 450 students. A future growth plan potential shows Oliver Elementary would require a capital plan inclusion for a four-classroom addition.

There are also several assumptions in the proposal around savings and it states about $9,700 per year would be saved in minimal heat/light, ground and maintenance costs at Tuc-el-Nuit. A conservative estimate shows that one principal, one teacher and one clerical or library position could be reduced, with a small increase in administration time at Oliver Elementary.

“I can’t cut anymore as far as staff, support staff or maintenance staff. I think we are at the limit in my opinion. We have to make some decisions. I became a trustee to make sure students have a proper educational environment and choices. I think we need to discuss this further in the community to see if this will work or will not work,” said Okanagan Falls trustee Sam Hancheroff.

“Our hands are tied. If you don’t have the money you have to do something, and I want to make sure whatever I am involved in is not going to affect the ability of a child to get a proper education at any level. If that means they have to walk a little bit farther I will live with that, but I will not look at laying off more of our staff or our support staff because those are the people that are very important to a child’s education.”

The school board plans on discussing how and when public consultation will take place at the next board meeting on Feb. 23. That information will be then relayed to the public.