Talk of school closures begins in School District 67

Low enrolment and bleak projections have prompted School District 67 to consider closing some of its schools.

Low enrolment and bleak projections have prompted School District 67 to consider closing some of its schools.

The district’s Long Range Facilities Plan was presented to the public during a presentation on Oct. 14 at the Shatford Centre.

“At the end of the day, offering the best educational opportunity that we can for our students should be our goal,” said Dawn Renaud, former chair of the District Parents Advisory Council (DPAC) who attended the meeting. “It’s nice when we can keep them at a school that’s close to home, but sometimes we just can’t do that.”

A total of 16 of the 19 schools are operating under capacity. Overall enrolment has dropped from 7,894 in the year 2000 to 5,842 as of September 2015. Because of this, over $3 million in cuts are expected over the next three years. At least an additional $750,000 each following year if numbers do not increase.

The possibility of closures previously became a concern while Renaud was serving as chair, and the end result was the closure of Nkwala Elementary – the school her husband and daughter once attended.

“I was upset that my neighbourhood school might be closed and started looking through the statistics, records and all of the rest of it,” she said. “But it became pretty obvious that (closing the school) was what we needed to do; it was in the best interest of the students that were affected in the catchment area. You don’t want to be paying for custodians and heat when you could be paying for teachers and classrooms. We love our custodians, but that’s not where you want to put more of your money than you need to.”

Renaud said the aftermath of Nkwala’s closure was much calmer than many expected.

“People get passionate; they get upset, concerned, worried, and they can put a lot of energy into trying to stop something that they think is going to be negative.”

Superintendent Wendy Hyer said no closures or reconfigurations will be made before consulting fully with community stakeholders. During the presentation it was pointed out how students at Princess Margaret Secondary School are subject to fewer educational offerings than their Penticton Secondary School counterparts. And among the district’s middle and secondary schools, there are only 3,404 students, but there is capacity for 4,650.

Hyer said no target for the reduction of enrolment capacity has been set — only enrolment numbers have been laid out and numerous other factors still have yet to be considered.

“We’re holding an open consultation process, no decisions have been made,” she said.

One parent suggested to the Western News that the district should reconsider where they are putting their money, for instance retaining so many playing fields.

The current chair for DPAC, Derek Hurst, who’s eldest daughter is in Grade 11, felt the presentation was delivered well and minimized hysteria.

“We need to make sure that with our children in this district, the most money that we can spend in the classroom is being spent there, and that we’re not spending it on things that are not helping to educate our children,” he said.

Asked if maintenance, custodial or clerical jobs will be lost upon closures, Hyer said the lost positions could be offset by schools that take on more students ,which will likely require more staff and longer hours; changes may not offer an equal amount of employment opportunity but the aim is to create cost efficiencies.

“Shutting a school down will affect everybody that works in the building,” said Leslea Woodward, president of the Okanagan-Skaha Teachers’ Union. “They might have work, but as the superintendent stated last night, it might not be full-time work.”

Given that enrolment has been going down for years, Woodward said she wasn’t surprised about the possibility of closures.

“It is surprising when you see the total numbers, it makes you realize how many unused spaces there are within the school,” she said. “times are changing, people just aren’t having as many kids; not as many families are moving into the area so enrolment’s gone down.”

CUPE SD67 Unit Chairperson Alison Reigh said the community is responsible for ensuring the school board puts education first, and urges local CUPE members and the community to engage in the public process.

“Attend future meetings; provide input,” she said in a release. “If change is required, let’s make sure that it is change for the better.”

School District 67 will be collecting input during a public meeting on Oct. 26 at 7 p.m. at the Shatford Centre.