West Bench Elementary may not have made the initial list, but there is still hope it may qualify under a new provincial funding program.
Trout Creek Elementary was one of nine schools listed as meeting the criteria of the Rural Education Enhancement Fund, aimed at preventing the closure of these rural schools. But West Bench Elementary, also slated for closure at the end of the school year, wasn’t on the list.
“What came down is there were nine schools that were directly affected,” said MLA Dan Ashton. “I have done my darndest and I am hoping with what the school board chair has told me there will be an application going in, but it has not met the initial criteria.”
But Linda Van Alphen, chair of the Okanagan Skaha School Board, said the district began working on getting funding for West Bench as soon as they found out about the program.
“We have already asked the ministry if we could put West Bench Elementary on this list as well,” said Van Alphen. She said they were told by Ministry of Education that if the board felt West Bench was eligible, to bring it forward and it would put it through their eligibility criteria.
“We were really hopeful with that statement. We would love to be able to do that,” said Van Alphen.
In a letter to MLAs Ashton and Linda Larson, West Bench parent Riley Gettens argued that West Bench Elementary should be considered.
“West Bench Elementary is the only elementary school in Rural Area F,” she wrote. “Declining enrolment is an issue that the Rural Education Enhancement Fund will address so that communities, like West Bench and Trout Creek, will have the infrastructure in place to grow and attract talent and families to keep our local economy strong.”
Ashton also challenged the SD67 school board to continue working to find funding for West Bench Elementary.