After weeding out a host of options, School District 83 trustees agreed to consider a number of changes to its schools, including the closure of two elementary schools – one at Silver Creek and the other in Armstrong.
The proposed changes are in response to budget pressures on the school district in light of decreasing enrolment and dwindling funding from the Ministry of Education.
A committee meeting was held Tuesday evening to allow school trustees to discuss the input from recent meetings and develop consensus on which options would be turned into formal motions for the upcoming Feb. 9 regular board meeting.
For Salmon Arm they include:
• Amalgamating Silver Creek Elementary and Salmon Arm West into one school at the Salmon Arm West site.
• Determining the feasibility of creating a one-campus school at Salmon Arm Secondary’s Sullivan campus.
For Armstrong and area:
• Amalgamate the current four schools into two K-7 elementary schools and one 8-12 secondary school. Trustees indicated the most likely building for closure in this case would be Armstrong Elementary, which is a historic brick structure. Trustees commented that the community might be interested in purchasing that building for some type of public use.
For Enderby: Complete a catchment area review of M.V. Beattie, Grindrod and Ranchero to determine the most effective manner of reorganizing these schools in order to accommodate future enrolment increases in the Enderby area.
There was unanimous support among trustees to convert Ranchero Elementary from a K-7 into a K-8 school. But Ranchero Elementary will also be the focus of the catchment review and so school district officials say this option won’t be presented as a formal motion until the catchment review is complete.
At Tuesday’s meeting, none of the suggested motions indicated whether any school closures would happen for the 2016-2017 school year or in future years. School District 83 indicated that a proposed timeline for closures would be brought forward at the Feb. 9 meeting.
A 60-day public consultation process is required for any school closure or major reconfiguration of a school. This means trustees would not make a final decision on any of the options until after additional public input.
One of the most controversial topics was the closure of Silver Creek Elementary, which would save the school district approximately $213,353 annually.
The school had been slated for closure last year, but trustees then voted against shutting the rural school, which has a current enrolment of 46 students.
Due to the small size of the school the cost per student to operate Silver Creek Elementary is $10,147. This contrasts with schools like Bastion Elementary, where the cost per pupil is $6,144.
Although there was some debate, the consensus of trustees was it would be more cost-effective to move Silver Creek students to Salmon Arm West. This is due to the lower number of Silver Creek students, the better co-ordination of bus routes, the agreements with First Nations bands regarding Salmon Arm West and water issues with the current Silver Creek school.
Trustee Debbie Evans, who represents the Silver Creek area, told the trustees she has shed many tears over the issue, but ultimately agreed with the other trustees to include the motion that would move the Silver Creek students to Salmon Arm West.
“I can live with it,” she said, “But we will be hearing from the community about it.”
Trustee Michel Saab noted the move to Salmon Arm West gave the most cost-savings.
“Making these cuts is not nice, but at all the consultation meetings, parents told us if we have to make them, we should make cuts to buildings, not programs.”
The conversion of Salmon Arm Secondary into a one-campus model by expanding the Sullivan campus also had widespread support, with trustees proposing a feasibility study into that idea. Along with this would be the closure and sale of the current Jackson campus, which is used primarily for the Grade 9 and 10 students.
“I think one campus is what most people want, but it will be interesting to see the costs,” says trustee Barry Chafe.
Trustees did not comment on the proposal to convert the elementary and high schools in Sicamous into one K-12 school, as this has been the subject of another committee report. It is anticipated this amalgamation will also come before the board on Feb. 9.