Meghan Steele shows a copy of the Summerland Solution. The document

Meghan Steele shows a copy of the Summerland Solution. The document

Trustees vote to close three schools in district

After a final round of voting and an impassioned plea from parents, two Penticton schools and one in Summerland are set to close June 30.

After a final round of voting and an impassioned plea from parents, two Penticton schools and one in Summerland are set to close June 30.

Trustee Bruce Johnson was the lone vote outstanding in the 6-1 vote against his motion to rescind the March decision to close schools.

Johnson asked the board to use accumulated savings to buy the board one more year to flesh out the ideas put forward by parents and governments.

“Buy us one year, just one year, and in that year work with the RDOS, West Bench, work with the District of Summerland as they have begged us to do, work with the Summerland Montessori solution, give this a chance,” Johnson said.

“See if we can keep our students in our system, keep our system strong and add extra students to our system.”

The risks outweighed the possible benefits for board chairperson Linda Van Alphen. She said the board had been in talks with Summerland parents and government officials, but the solutions now would lead to trouble down the road.

“Essentially what (people) were asking was to reduce our funding by cutting teachers, by cutting programs and by cutting resources in order to keep their schools open on a hope that somehow or another they could turn this around,” Van Alphen said.

“I know that a lot of people are really upset at what’s going on, but the other side of the coin is that there is an awful lot of people in support of what is happening, whether you believe me or not … I doubt if you will, but you certainly would see it if you went around and talked to other people, other people not in your own sphere of influence,” Van Alphen said.

She said closing schools is the “worst thing you can possibly do” but it solves enrolment and budget issues and benefits the district as a whole.

Trustee Bill Bidlake reversed his previous vote to keep schools open, noting that the pressure put on by the provincial government gets deflected to local trustees.

“I don’t blame the provincial government for the situation that we’re in right now and all school closures, but I do blame them for a lack of funding in education that’s currently going on,” Bidlake said.

Bidlake said he agreed with Johnson, but if schools don’t close there will be layoffs for teachers next year.

“No matter what we do in this present situation it’s not going to be easy,” Bidlake said.

Mike Pleasance, one of the parents advocating the  “Summerland Solution” to move the Montessori program into the elementary schools to bring in more students and funding, said the board could regain the community’s trust.

He outlined a plan that he said would bring an estimated 40 to 80 students into the district from the Montessori program, increasing funding at the same time.

“I propose that closing Trout Creek is actually going to cost you money in the long term by losing the students you could gain from Montessori and by all the students who are going to leave because they’re not happy with the educational opportunities offered by the school district in Summerland,” Pleasance said. “So there’s no long-term gain and in the process you’re disenfranchising a lot of Summerland.”

McNicoll Park Middle School, Trout Creek Elementary and West Bench Elementary will close June 30.