School closures off the table

School closures in Silver Creek and Armstrong are off the table, but Sicamous schools are still being debated.

School closures in Silver Creek and Armstrong are off the table, but Sicamous schools are still being debated.

During a North Okanagan-Shuswap School District board meeting Tuesday night, trustee Mike McKay announced Armstrong Elementary and Silver Creek Elementary will not be closed.

Stephanie Halifax, of the Armstrong Spallumcheen Education Society, said she was relieved at the news.

“There’s been a lot of hard work and effort (to save Armstrong schools),” she said.

The previous board of education, which was fired in June, originally extended the public consultation process for closing Armstrong Elementary and Silver Creek Elementary, but McKay passed recommendations to leave the schools for now.

“This is about current circumstances… We want our kids from Armstrong to go to Armstrong schools,” said McKay.

Major factors for removing Armstrong school closure recommendations include: additional funding through administrative savings, new transportation funding and that the district is out of funding protection, said spokesperson for District 83, Alice Hucul.

“Each of Armstrong’s schools has a population sufficient to make it a dynamic learning environment and there will be ongoing efforts to bring new program initiatives that will attract area students who have chosen to attend other schools,” she said.

No closures were advised for schools in Salmon Arm, though a report presented to the board recommends “the district study the educational impact on students who are in 3 and 4-grade splits.”

McKay said the main factor to remove the amalgamation of Silver Creek and Salmon Arm West is the improvement in district finances as well as the Rural Education Enhancement Fund.

“This fund provides districts with an allocation equal to that of what was being saved from a potential school closure or amalgamation,” said Hucul.

For Sicamous, a report presented to the board said factors to be taken into consideration before the implementation of a K-12 school, include: the district currently does not have funding to renovate Eagle River Secondary, the proposed location of the school (Eagle River vs. Parkview) and “school closure consultation would need to occur for Parkview Elementary. It is likely that the District would then become eligible to receive the Rural Education Enhancement Funds.”

McKay said further discussions with the K-12 task force, and with the District of Sicamous, will happen in order to explore all options. A full report and recommendation will be brought to the February board meeting.

After public consultations in October and November, McKay outlined criteria to address school closures which look at a school’s physical condition, population, financial cuts and the community’s confidence in quality learning.

The criteria look at whether a “school’s physical condition is in a poor state and would it disproportionately drain the district’s resources to bring the facility up to a reasonable standard, and is there another school that has space and can be reasonably accessed by students?

“Is the school population dwindling to a degree that it is not reasonable to deliver a full and robust educational program?

“Is the school district in such dire financial circumstances that significant cuts in all areas of operations are required and school closures and program consolidations need to be part of that overall plan?

“Has the school lost the community’s confidence regarding its ability to provide quality student learning?”