School district applies for funding

The Okanagan Skaha School District will find out if applications for new funding to keep two schools open were approved.

Students, parents, teachers and trustees alike are waiting anxiously for June 30, when the Okanagan Skaha School District finds out if applications for new funding to keep West Bench and Trout Creek Elementary schools open were approved.

School trustees met June 24 to finalize the decision to apply for the Rural Education Enhancement Fund announced by the province last week.

The trustees — with the exception of Barb Sheppard, who was unable to make the special 8 a.m. meeting due to personal commitments — all voted in favour of applying for funding for both schools. In the Okanagan Similkameen School District, trustees gathered last night and voted 5-2 in favour of applying for funding for Osoyoos Secondary School.

Trout Creek Elementary was listed in the original announcement as meeting the criteria for the new funding, but West Bench was not.

“We were happy to see Trout Creek there, but we also wanted to add West Bench as well,” said board chair Linda van Alphen. “Ever since the announcement, we have been on the phone with the ministry daily.”

Vice-chair Bill Bidlake said he received assurance from the Ministry of Education that if school districts applied for more than the nine schools listed in the announcement, the $2.7 million dedicated to the fund would be adjusted, rather than each school getting a smaller share.

Van Alphen said that while they are applying for funding for the schools, the board won’t vote on rescinding the closures until another special meeting at 3 p.m. on June 30, which is when they expect to receive confirmation of new funding.

Bonnie Roller Routley, secretary-treasurer for the district, said they are sending in separate applications for each school. Along with enrolment figures, geographical location and barriers, Roller Routley said the district is asking for contextual information about the schools’ place in the community.

“We have many thousands of documents that talk about the concerns of parents in the community. We have also attached examples of all the letters of concern,” she said. “Both communities have put together a package that talks about the community, so I have used that extensively for the application.”

Roller Routley said that adds up to a couple of sizeable application packages.

“I think we have caught everything the ministry wants to see. A hundred pages is inundating, but it’s a lot less than the 1,000 or so we could have attached.”

If either, or both, of the applications are approved on June 30, it will mean some changes to the 2016-17 budget, which is due at the ministry that same day.

“We will probably ask to submit on July 4 or 5 rather than on the 30th,” said Roller Routley, adding that since the new funding is intended to cover what would have been saved by closing the schools, the net effect on the budget will be zero.

What the funding will not cover is any capital expenses, like refitting a school’s HVAC system. Roller Routley said both West Bench and Trout Creek are in good condition.

“All of our schools are in very good condition. Both of these schools are in decent shape and probably won’t need major capital expenditures in the next three to five years,” said Roller Routley.

Van Alphen talked about re-establishing good working relationships with parents at both schools and thanked them for preparing community context packages for each of the schools.

“We certainly encouraged the community context to be able to send to the ministry, the heart of the community that you were talking about with your schools,” said Van Alphen. “We needed that piece, that was the piece of the puzzle we needed to put into this.”