Okanagan-Skaha school district to consider closures amid financial pressures, little growth

It was a near-packed house at School District 67’s special meeting in Penticton on Tuesday night. Taya Fast / Global News

It was an almost-packed house at a school board meeting in the South Okanagan on Tuesday night.

Normally, very few people, if any, attend such gatherings. However, with potential school closures and shuffling being mulled, the special meeting held at School District 67 headquarters in Penticton was very well attended.

Ultimately, School District 67 is looking at the possibility of closing three schools in Penticton and Summerland as part of its long-range facilities plan.

The special meeting not only attracted local residents, but Penticton’s mayor, Julius Bloomfield, as well as local MLA Dan Ashton and RDOS area directors.

The meeting, though, wasn’t an opportunity for concerned residents to voice their opinions or concerns. Rather, it was a presentation of information by Superintendent Todd Manuel to the school board’s trustees.

“The focus of the long-range facilities planning process is to ensure the district is managing its school facilities in an efficient manner in order to deliver and sustain educational programs to our students at the highest possible standard,” reads the opening statement of SD 67’s notes package.

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“Due to inefficient use of school space (capacity), the district faces annual, unfunded inflationary cost pressures of over $1 million. These financial pressures result in a reduction in programs and services to students on a year-after-year basis.”

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According to the district, student enrolment has decreased 36 per cent since 2001 and is predicted not to change significantly over the next 20 years.

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Penticton schools are at a combined 82 per cent capacity, while Summerland is at 69 per cent. It adds that the Ministry of Education’s guidelines identify 95 per cent as a facility’s usage target.

“The district is projecting minimal growth in student enrollment over the next 10 years (a range of 160 to 300 students in total over the 10-year period),” reads the document, which says projections are based on multiple sources.

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As a result, school district staff have recommended moving towards an elementary-secondary school model, which would mean closing three elementary schools and doing away with middle schools entirely.

“It’s a very sensitive topic, and we don’t take those conversations lightly,” said Supt. Todd Manuel during Tuesday’s meeting.

The recommendation outlined changes to the School District’s three school families: Summerland, Penticton North and Penticton South.

Summerland Family of Schools

Giants Head Elementary would close and Summerland Middle School would become Summerland Elementary School from Kindergarten to Grade 6.

Summerland Secondary would become Grades 7-12.

Penticton North / Penticton Secondary Family of Schools

Carmi Elementary School would be shut down and KVR Middle School would change to KVR Elementary School from Kindergarten to Grade 7.

The remaining elementary schools would transition to a Kindergarten to Grade 7 model.

Penticton South / Princess Margaret Secondary Family of Schools:

Parkway Elementary School would close, and Skaha Lake Middle School would become Skaha Lake Elementary School from Kindergarten to Grade 7.

Columbia Elementary would also transition from the Princess Margaret Secondary family of schools back to a Penticton Secondary feeder school.

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The closures would not occur until the 2025-26 school year and the full transition is expected to take around three years to complete. The capital costs to convert middle schools to elementary schools would cost approximately $3 million.

According to staff, the proposed school closures would save an estimated $1.5 million each year on an annual basis, on the low side.

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On Tuesday, the board voted unanimously to move the concept forward to discussion at an upcoming meeting on Thursday.

If the board decides to move forward again with consideration of the plan, it will be discussed at the Jan. 31 regularly scheduled board meeting.

Afterwards, the board will decide whether to send the matter to extensive public consultation for 60 days before the board receives feedback and makes any final decisions.

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No final decisions have been made regarding the proposed changes at this time.

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