Emotions ran high as parents of Trout Creek Elementary School students and others in the community met on Wednesday to discuss a response to the school closure decision.
An estimated 170 people attended the meeting, which was held at Summerland Baptist Church.
Earlier this month, Okanagan Skaha School Board trustees voted to close three schools, including Trout Creek. The adoption is scheduled for a board meeting on March 30.
The elementary school has a capacity of 277 students but its enrolment at present is 182 students. The closure will have far-reaching effects in Summerland as the grade structure at the remaining three schools would change. Under the closure model, Summerland students from Kindergarten to Grade 3 would attend Giant’s Head Elementary School, students in Grades 4 to 7 would attend Summerland Middle School and students in Grades 8 to 12 would attend Summerland Secondary School.
Sharon Mansiere, one of the moderators at the meeting, urged a respectful tone.
“We have the potential to pull together as a community or to pull apart,” she said.
She added that the school district’s financial constraints mean any budget and facilities decision will have far-reaching effects.
“If this closure doesn’t happen, what is going to be cut?” she asked.
According to school district statistics, closing Trout Creek Elementary School is expected to save $423,882. School district officials have said the budget must be trimmed by approximately $1.025 million this year, with further reductions of at least $750,000 every year after that.
Those in the audience said the closure is a mistake and a short-sighted decision.
Jane Compardo said there are 74 new building lots in Trout Creek, including 56 on the market at present. She added that the real estate agents are specifically targeting young families with these lots.
“There are definitely young families buying in our area,” she said. “There is significant interest. I am seeing growth in this region.”
Mayor Peter Waterman said Summerland is experiencing growth. In 2015, 42 building permits were issued for residential units. This represents a population growth of slightly less than one per cent..
New Democrat MLA Jodie Wickens, the party’s deputy education spokesperson, attended the meeting.
“She said 240 schools across B.C. have been closed over the past 10 years as boards have had to deal with budget constraints.
“Our children are not an accounting exercise,” she said.
Coun. Doug Holmes said the closure decision is a disappointing blow for the community.
“Summerland is short-changed all the time,” he said.
Christy Tiessen, a parent who has spoken out against the Trout Creek closure and the earlier suggestion to close Giant’s Head Elementary School, said any closure decision should be made slowly.
“Closing Trout Creek is not necessary this year,” she said.
Organizers are planning a rally at the school district office in Penticton on Tuesday, March 29 at 3 p.m.