The fate of schools in Sicamous remains in limbo after the dismissal of the entire North Okanagan-Shuswap school board by the Education Minister on June 15.
After significant community consultation, the board was scheduled to vote on a motion at Tuesday night’s regular meeting to approve the creation of a single K-12 school model in Sicamous at Eagle River Secondary and close Parkview Elementary. The target date for the conversion was September 2017.
In a move which foreshadowed the board’s replacement, the ministry contacted the school district in advance of their meeting and advised them to defer any financial or policy decisions including the decision on this issue.
The board then voted to postpone the decision on the Sicamous school changes until September.
Following the board dismissal, the education minister appointed Mike McKay as the official trustee to run the district for at least a year, but more likely until the next scheduled election in November 2018.
In an interview with the News on Monday, McKay said the board’s decision to defer the issue to September will stand.
One of his priorities will be to review the issue of amalgamating the two schools, including going over the information collected from the committee and the public consultation sessions. He will be working with staff to ensure he is fully apprised of the situation before moving forward.
“The people can be assured that any decision is going to be thoughtfully made. I intend to understand all the issues and get a sense of the sustainability of a decision like that… There will be no surprises.”
He noted there will be challenges ahead.
“There isn’t a pathway to the perfect solution, but we need to get to the place where we are supporting student learning most substantially.”
Another wrench in the proposal is the fact the school district does not currently have enough money in its capital fund to cover the costs of renovating Eagle River Secondary to be suitable for all ages of students. The estimates costs of renovations was $2 million.
In a report to the board, Nicole Bittante, secretary-treasurer, noted there were future options available to pay for improvements including the use of proceeds from the sale of currently-listed school district properties, using any operating surplus at the end of the 2016 fiscal year or receiving a grant through the School Enhancement Program.
The school district has three properties on the market including the former board administration offices, the South Canoe School and the North Canoe Annex. If all three sold at list price, it would generate approximately $2.8 million in revenue.
Some of the issues addressed following community consultation included ensuring appropriate safety measures for students crossing Highway 97A with the possible use of crossing guards and continuous fencing between the playing fields and the Trans-Canada Highway.
Of primary concern was for renovations to be complete before the K-12 school opens to student use.
Trustee Barry Chafe noted this would be the last school building in the community and it should be properly outfitted for student needs.
“I wouldn’t want to see us jam them in there in hopes that the works will happen,” he said. “There has been a lot of thought on this and we need to take the recommendations of the committee and do this right.”