Three South Okanagan elementary schools set to permanently close

Click to play video: 'Okanagan Skaha School District will close schools'
Okanagan Skaha School District will close schools
After months of deliberation and public feedback - the "Okanagan-Skaha" school district is officially set to undergo a major reshuffling. This comes as a result of low enrollment - and financial pressures. Taya Fast reports. – Apr 18, 2024

It’s official: three South Okanagan elementary schools are set to permanently close next year.

On Monday, the School District 67 board gave the green light to the new Long-Range Facilities plan following months of deliberation and a public engagement period.

“We saw the declining numbers for quite some time and we started looking at it really significantly just before COVID. We stopped the process or paused it, rather, because we didn’t feel we were going to get enough good engagement from the public during the COVID restrictions,” said School District 67 board chair James Palanio.

“We paused it and then we came back again. They gave us an opportunity to collect a lot of statistics and a lot of data. And we presented that at the end of January had until now for the public to review it and then we unanimously made the decision the other night.”

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Click to play video: 'Okanagan-Skaha school district to consider closures'
Okanagan-Skaha school district to consider closures

The plan is to move towards an elementary/secondary school model which includes closing down the three elementary schools and doing away with middle schools entirely.

The plan will see:

  • Carmi Elementary close and move to KVR Middle (to become KVR Elementary)
  • Parkway Elementary close and move to Skaha Lake Middle (to become Skaha Lake Elementary)
  • Giant’s Head Elementary close and move to Summerland Middle (to become Summerland Elementary)
  • ConnectEd Facility close and the ConnectEd programs be moved to a different location.

“I actually attended the school board meeting where they made the decision and it was an interesting discussion, very emotional. Closing a school isn’t something that’s done very lightly,” said Summerland Mayor Doug Holmes.

“It’s kind of a sign of the times, unfortunately. Our population is aging; I think that’s a reflection of these decisions.”

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Click to play video: 'Three Okanagan schools on chopping block'
Three Okanagan schools on chopping block

The plan comes as a result of financial pressures and little growth within the district.

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

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.

“Over the past 20 years, we’ve had 2,000 less students in our district, so very significant,” said Palanio.

“We’re getting to a point over the last four years, we’ve had shortfalls of $3.8 million and another shortfall expected this year. We just need to be more efficient with our facilities.”

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Click to play video: 'City of Penticton population growing older'
City of Penticton population growing older

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

District staff say the plan will help ensure funds are still available for extracurricular programming that are often cut due to financial pressures.

“The amalgamation is going to give slightly bigger schools so there’s going to be more opportunities for programs for the students,” said Palanio.

“If we’re not going forward with an amalgamation, we’re not going to be efficient and we’re going to have to continue to cut at least a million dollars a year going forward.”

According to the district, the plan is phased over the next three years. There will be no changes to the elementary schools until June 2025, when the schools will close their doors for good.

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Ex-School District 67 employee pleads guilty

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