Trout Creek Elementary School is open this year

Trout Creek Elementary School is open this year

Waterman proposes educational pilot project

A pilot project, proposed by Mayor Peter Waterman, would see the municipality and a Summerland school board merge administrative services.

A proposed pilot project, suggested by Mayor Peter Waterman, would see the municipality and a local Summerland school board merge administrative services.

Waterman introduced the project earlier this month and municipal council expects to discuss it further at the upcoming Union of B.C. Municipalities conference in Victoria.

The project would involve the creation of a Summerland school board, similar to the model which was in place prior to 1996, when Summerland had its own school district, separate from Penticton.

The proposed project would merge administrative services between the municipality and the new school board.

“Council is excited about the opportunity to discuss the idea with the community, political leaders, teachers and other stakeholders to determine whether moving forward with the project would be a benefit to Summerland,” Waterman said.

He added that the concept is a model other communities could follow, decreasing administrative costs and channeling school funding into schools.

Linda Van Alphen, chair of the Okanagan Skaha School Board, said a pilot project is already in place, sharing services between the school district and the Regional District, City of Penticton and the Penticton Indian Band. She said Summerland’s council signed this agreement in July.

Van Alphen questions whether a separate Summerland school district would result in financial savings.

“You still have to have all the specialized staff, your support and the people who have to deliver the B.C. curriculum,” she said.

Connie Denesiuk, a former school trustee, former chair of the Okanagan Skaha School Board and former president of the B.C. School Trustees’ Association said proposals similar to Waterman’s pilot project have been suggested in previous years, from other communities.

“That resolution, in one form or another, has come up at the Union of B.C. Municipalities a number of times,” she said.

One limiting factor, which led to discussions about closures over the past year, has been the amount of funding for school districts.

Under the present model, school districts receive money based on the number of students. School districts with declining student populations will see their funding decrease and must make cuts or close schools in order to balance their budgets.

Earlier funding models were not based strictly on a per student basis, Denesiuk said. As a result, earlier school boards did not face the same financial challenges as present boards are facing.

She said consolidating school districts had been done in order to save money at the administrative level. This in turn leaves more money to be used in the classroom rather than at the management level.

“The bigger your district the more effective you can become,” she said.