Okanagan Skaha trustee stands by school closure decision

Okanagan-Skaha trustees said they will not be asking for a special adviser to review their choices.

Standing behind their decision to close three schools in the district, Okanagan-Skaha trustees said they will not be asking for a special adviser to review their choices.

This comes one week after Penticton MLA Dan Ashton said the Minister of Education has offered to pay the costs of an adviser to the board should they request one and that $226, 000 in administrative savings would be returned to the board.

“We have answered every letter that has come in. We have responded to every request. We have responded to every bit of information the ombudsmen has asked for, yet we have been accused of stalling. We have been accused of hiding things. We have been accused, and especially our staff , has been accused of being inept. We have been accused of all of these things and we have not been able to stand up and say no. We believe in the process that we had,” said board chairperson Linda Van Alphen defending their position.

The school board said they were not notified formally about Ashton’s announcement which he made on the grass in front of the board office.

“Staff didn’t know about it, none of the trustees knew about it,” she said. “That whole thing, it was just odd, it was an odd way to do it,” said Van Alphen, who added that she doesn’t feel Ashton overstepped any bounds when he called for the reimbursement to be used to keep schools open and for the board to request a special adviser.

While she said it is great news they received the funds back, it was “unfair to give people false hope.”

The board voted at their meeting on Monday that they would wait until September enrollment numbers to decide what to do with the returned funding that came from administrative cuts, rather than one motion that was put forward to save Trout Creek school with the money. A majority of the board suggested it should go to frontline services.

Trout Creek parent Phil Burman said the community feels the adviser is an important step.

“We are not saying we are right, you are wrong — that has never been said. We just said you need a second set of eyes, someone with some oversight. We need a referee to come in so they can just check out the lay of the land and see if it is how we have been told it is,” said Burman. “There is a lot to gain and there is nothing to lose.”

Vice-chair Bill Bidlake said he would like to wait to hear the ombudsmen’s report on the school district process rather than start another review. Bidlake also said he cannot support using the funds to keep one school open.

“I wish there was enough funds to keep all three (schools) open but there is not. Although this is a difficult decision to make, I would rather see the $266,000 spent directly in all the classrooms rather than just classrooms in Trout Creek.

The lone trustee who wanted to request an adviser and to not wait until September to allocate the funding was Bruce Johnson. He agreed the board’s decision to close Trout Creek, West Bench Elementary and McNicoll Park on June 30 was a very thorough process, but did not see the harm in an adviser corroborating their decisions.

“You are right, we have nothing to hide. You said if we choose they will come and validate that. I’m saying yeah let’s choose that, let’s take them up on their offer,” he said.

In his reasoning, Johnson said they already have top-notch frontline services for all students and keeping Trout Creek open would affect every student in Summerland. Chair Van Alphen said using the funds to keep Trout Creek open is not feasible because they would be losing money in their budgeting for 2016-2017.

“I think we have to take a really good look at this and say if we did something like that where are we going to get the money from? What students, what schools, what services are we going to cut in order to keep this school. I think we have to go right down to the bottom of the line with that,” she said.