Ezra Hiebert

Ezra Hiebert

Elementary school’s future uncertain

Low enrolment numbers throughout the region have school trustees considering whether to close one of Summerland’s elementary schools.

Low enrolment numbers throughout the region have school trustees considering whether to close one of Summerland’s elementary schools.

Linda Van Alphen, chair of the Okanagan Skaha School Board, said the school district has been working to cope with low enrolment figures and funding shortfalls for several years.

At present, enrolment is 25 per cent below capacity throughout the school district. Summerland’s enrolment figures are projected to remain steady until at least 2025.

School funding is based on enrolment figures and at present, the school board has been operating at a deficit.

The budget is roughly $54 million and the shortfall has been $1.2 million a year for several years.

Last year, in order to meet its expenses, the school board had to cut into its reserve funds.

“We’re in a critical stage,” Van Alphen said. “It’s very difficult for us to make any moves anymore without going into the classroom and reducing the staff we have or reducing the resources we have.”

The school board is considering eight options, including closing schools.

In Summerland, Giant’s Head School has been suggested as a possibility for closure.

“Shutting down Giant’s Head School is a proposal,” she said. “This is what could happen.”

This decision would involve closing the school and transferring the students to Summerland Middle School.

The middle school would then house Kindergarten to Grade 7, while students in Grade 8 to Grade 12 would attend Summerland Secondary School.

While Giant’s Head School is at capacity, Summerland Middle School and Summerland Secondary School are both around 30 per cent under capacity, said Bonnie Roller Routley, secretary-treasurer of the school district.

Even with the reconfiguration, Summerland Secondary School would remain well below its capacity, she added.

With five grades in the school, it would have an enrolment of roughly 500 students. The building is able to accommodate around 650 students.

Enrolment numbers have been decreasing in Summerland in recent years.

In 2015, 95 students graduated from Summerland Secondary School. Two decades earlier, in 1995, the graduating class had around 130 students

According to information in the 2011 census, 12.8 per cent of Summerland’s population of 11,280 were 14 years of age or younger.

The median age was 52, significantly higher than the national median age of 41.9.

A decade earlier, in 2001, those 14 and under made up 16.1 per cent of the population of Summerland.

The median age in Summerland in 2001 was 46.8 years of age.

A series of meetings will be held to discuss the school district’s options. The first of these will be at Giant’s Head School on Nov. 12 at 7 p.m.

“We need to look at this as a district-wide problem, not just Summerland’s problem,” Van Alphen said.

She added that the school board and district staff will collect feedback and comments until Dec. 10.

In January, the school board will make a decision which schools in Penticton and Summerland to keep open.

 

 

Potential closure concerns mayor

The potential closure of one Summerland elementary school would have far-reaching implications for the community, Mayor Peter Waterman said.

“It will drastically affect families in the area,” he said, adding that some families with younger children chose to move to the area because of its proximity to the elementary school.

Waterman, who lives near the elementary school, sees many families bringing their children to the school every morning.

In recent years, the municipality has spent money installing a roundabout at the intersection of Victoria Road South and Prairie Valley Road, upgrading Prairie Valley Road near the school and adding sidewalks to the area.

“Quite a bit of work has been done to that area,” Waterman said.