The public will have 60 days to provide input to on possibly closing and reconfiguring schools.
North Okanagan-Shuswap trustees voted Tuesday to accept the long-term facility report and proceed with community consultation on the five recommendations which would impact the September 2015 school year.
“We are accepting the report, not approving the recommendations. Each of us at the table may have problems with some of the recommendations, but this is to get the discussion going. We can’t not do anything,” said Kelly Rowe, an Armstrong trustee.
The five recommendations for September involve closing Silver Creek Elementary and changes to grades at Parkview, Ranchero, North Shuswap and Falkland schools. Falkland could go from kindergarten to Grade 7 to kindergarten to Grade 8.
The 10-year plan focuses on dealing with the budget impacts and meeting the needs of 5,500 students, down from 8,000 a decade ago.
Long-term, the plan suggests closing Grindrod Elementary and reconfiguring grades in Armstrong and Enderby.
Judy Shoemaker, the consultant hired to help prepare the report, noted nearly every school in the district is under capacity for students.
Since Ministry of Education funding is triggered by student enrolment, declining numbers mean ever-shrinking budgets.
“Each time we have a classroom of 10 kids that could fit 20 kids, you spend twice as much on those 10 kids as you do on the 20,” said Salmon Arm trustee Michel Saab. “It’s not sustainable.”
Saab noted that any changes within the district will have ripple effects to all.
“Who will pay the price for our decisions? Either way, some kids will pay the price. That’s the reality. If we keep some schools open, we will have to cut other programs and services for kids.”
It was pointed out that there have been proposals to close Grindrod and Armstrong elementaries in the past but that did not happen.
“We will look at each one,” said Bobbi Johnson, board chairperson.
“It is not a given we will close Grindrod or Silver Creek or any of them. As we go through the process, we will have to decide, but we need to move forward.”
About 80 people, including numerous representatives from municipal government and community groups, packed the district education centre for the meeting.
Johnson made a plea for public support of education funding.
“Trustees have been fighting, teachers have been fighting, staff have been fighting, but we do not feel like we are being heard. It’s going to take the people of B.C. to say enough is enough.”
Public meetings will be held in each of the affected areas to allow for community input. The meeting dates have not yet been set, but will likely begin in early April. The board is also welcoming letters, phone calls or emails with public comments.
A final decision on any school closures and reconfigurations is currently scheduled to take place at the board meeting May 12.