For years, the Okanagan Skaha School district has struggled with declining enrolment and shrinking budgets.
And for years, thanks to careful planning and some budget wizardry, the school board has—mostly—been able to keep those cuts from affecting students and their educational opportunities.
But at some point, there just isn’t anything left to trim. And that’s the situation our school district finds itself in now. Enrolment is continuing to drop, resulting in more than 1,900 empty seats.
According to a long range facilities study, with few exceptions, the majority of district schools are over 20 per cent empty and some are more than 50 per cent empty. All those empty classrooms and excess space are expensive to heat, cool, light, clean and maintain.
Past and current school boards have done their best to avoid closing schools, which they should be applauded for.
Now, the job has changed. The Okanagan Skaha School District needs to find a way to meet a $1.025-million shortfall for their next budget year, and projected shortfalls of $750,000 continuing until school enrolment stabilizes and begins to climb once more.
Closing a school does more than just reduce costs for the school district. It allows for more varied educational choices at more densely populated schools and more efficient delivery of programming and resources for the students.
Besides declining enrolment, shifting populations also need to be considered. What was once a neighbourhood filled with young families, may now be a neighbourhood with homes where the children have grown up and moved on, leaving only a few teenage students.
At one time considering closing schools and amalgamating student populations was viewed as a last resort, but times have changed, and it is appropriate to consider shuttering some schools to create enriched learning environments in others.