Funding announced for Okanagan Skaha School District

The province is giving the Okanagan Skaha School District an additional $266,527 in an attempt to save schools within the district.

Dan Ashton

Dan Ashton

The province is giving the Okanagan Skaha School District an additional $266,527 in an attempt to save schools within the district.

Dan Ashton, MLA for the riding of Penticton, announced the funding Tuesday morning in Penticton.

“For the past number of months, many members of the communities and myself have worked tirelessly to save these schools from closing,” Ashton said. “I am very pleased to deliver more than $266,000 in funding to help the cause. It is now time for the school district to respond and reopen at least one of these schools, if not both.”

Earlier this spring, the school board announced the closure of Trout Creek Elementary School in Summerland and West Bench Elementary School and McNicoll Park Middle School in Penticton.

The closures, with an estimated cost savings of $1,187,606, were an effort to trim more than $1 million from the school board budget this year.

Closing Trout Creek and reconfiguring the remaining three public schools in Summerland was expected to bring savings of $423,882.

Ashton said the closures of the Trout Creek and West Bench schools would mean the loss of annual rural school grants.

In addition, he said the school district has a $1.9 million operating surplus at present.

“We have to have a second look at this,” Ashton said about the school closures.

He said a special adviser reviewing the process would be the best way to get the answers.

“The Ministry of Education has confirmed that should our school district agree to our request for a special adviser, all costs for the adviser will be paid by the ministry instead of our local school district,” Ashton said. “Therefore, if our school board firmly believes it properly followed the process required to close Trout Creek Elementary, there is absolutely no reason to reject the request to agree to a special adviser to be appointed by the ministry.”

Linda Van Alphen, chair of the school board, said the board’s process in closing the schools has been sound.

“I think that our process has been solid,” she said.

She added that the board was expecting to have a closed meeting with Ministry of Education officials later in the day on Tuesday.

Mayor Peter Waterman of Summerland is pleased with Ashton’s announcement.

“It’s certainly very good news for Summerland that the government has taken this step,” he said.

While enrolment has declined in recent years, Waterman said growth is expected in Trout Creek.

At present, 72 lots in Trout Creek are being built on and another 75 are expected to be developed within the next five years.

Meghann Pleasance, a Trout Creek parent, said the funding announcement does not ensure that the school will remain open.

“I would like to be hopeful, however, given what has happened, there’s no guarantee that the money will be used to keep any of the three schools open,” she said.

The funding announcement is part of $25 million in administrative savings, distributed to school boards across the province.