School district tackles tough issues in 2012

Budgetary woes and allegations of inappropriate conduct against a teacher were among the challenges faced in Okanagan-Skaha School District

Allegations of inappropriate conduct against a teacher and the elimination of its sex-education instructor’s position were among the challenges that faced the board of the Okanagan Skaha School District in 2012.

Still, board chair Ginny Manning said she’s pleased with staff and elected officials’ continued focus on students.

Voters elected four new members to the seven-person board in late 2011 and Manning said the new personalities have brought refreshing insights but kept kids at the forefront.

“Everybody is really open to conversation and discussion and everybody certainly has different opinions and is coming from a different place,” Manning said. “However, we all are able to come to the table and we’re heading in the same direction.”

She said those efforts were validated by December’s superintendent’s report on achievement that showed local students are finishing school at a rate unseen for at least five years.

The six-year completion rate stood at 84 per cent in 2012, up from 81 per cent in 2008. The rate, which looks at the number of students who graduate within six years of entering high school, also reached at an all-time high of 66 per cent for Aboriginal students.

Also of note are results from standardized tests of Grade 4 and 7 students that showed local kids are outperforming their B.C. peers in six key categories.

“The success of our district is a team effort, and thanks really go out to the terrific employees who work so hard to make education a great experience for our students,” Manning said.

Such successes, however, took a back seat at times to some of the issues that popped up in 2012.



Sex education

When the school board in May approved its 2012-13 budget, it opted go forward without a family life teacher.

With the district’s longtime sex educator, Brenda Kroschinsky, due to retire, the board decided not to replace her and instead find different ways to teach kids about sexual health. That prompted pleas to the board from a student and parent, who were unable to convince trustees to change their minds.

Manning said the district has managed to cover off the family life learning outcomes by having regular school staff cover the subject matter and by bringing in experts from outside agencies.

“If we had all the money in the world, it would have been great to be able to retain that position, however, within budgets such as we have we weren’t able to do that.”



Less money, more problems

Faced with an $1.8-million gap between what it wanted to spend and what it had available to spend, the school board made some tough choices when it approved the 2012-13 budget.

Trustees chose to eliminate the equivalent of 7.8 full-time jobs and take $1 million from savings and reserves to make the $57-million operating budget.

Manning said board members tried to “keep (cuts) as best we could away from the classrooms, which is a positive. Hopefully we will continue to be able to do that.”

And the budget looks to be the biggest issue facing the school district next year. Manning said she’s expecting another 1.5 per cent decrease in provincial funding due to a continued decline in enrolment, plus the usual increase in staff costs and utility bills.



Offshore accounts

To help bring in additional money, the school district has renewed efforts to attract international students.

With a new fee structure that would see a visiting student pay $12,000 per year for tuition, almost double what the district receives in government funding for each domestic student, the return could be significant.

“We’ve been talking about it for a number of years; the time was right to do it this year and to be able to do it the right way. We’re moving cautiously,” said Manning, adding the availability of classroom space and staff interest were also factors in the decision.



Parlez vous Francais

Besides the expansion of its international reach, the district is also contemplating a new early French immersion program that would accept students in kindergarten and Grade 1.

That program would complement the late French immersion program already in place for students in Grade 6 and up. District staff has hosted parent meetings in Penticton and Summerland and learned there are nearly 60 kids whose guardians are interested in enrolling them if, and when, the program starts in fall 2014.

Manning said a committee studying the feasibility of EFI will report out to the board in May, at which time trustees will decide whether or not to invest another year in planning before making a final decision in February 2014 based on actual applications.



Not much to say

The public learned in October that KVR Middle School teacher Miko McGrady was facing a disciplinary hearing with the B.C. Teacher Regulation Branch due to nine allegations of inappropriate conduct in his classroom between December 2009 and June 2010.

McGrady admitted three of the counts of professional misconduct, had the other six quashed, and accepted a two-week suspension. Former students rushed to his defence when the allegations were made public and McGrady later told the Western News he felt pressured by both the TRB and his union-appointed lawyer to take the deal.

The school district remained tight-lipped throughout because it claimed it was a personnel matter and confirmed only that it had investigated the matter and referred it to the TRB. Manning said it remains a personnel matter.

“There’s not much I can say about that issue,” she said.

“It was not us that made that decision. It’s very difficult for me to comment on that.”