West Bench, Faulder, Okanagan Lake West
Joe Fries from The Herald asked me to comment on the outcome of last night's meeting. I am not sure there is an outcome, but I did try to clarify a couple of things. My email is below.
Sorry for the delay--in another meeting. I have asked Bill Newell to follow up with SD67 to get a written response to the RDOS proposal. At this point it is not completely clear to me what was decided at last night's meeting so I would prefer to see SD67's response in writing before commenting. I understand quite a bit of new information was provided which may impact the entire school closure issue.
Having said that, you might recall from my letter to SD67 on 26 March that I led with the following question: "Is SD67 willing to keep West Bench Elementary open if an operating grant is provided?" What we were seeking--and are still seeking--is an unambiguous answer yes or no. There is a precedent for this request. The Board of Education decided at the start of the school closure process to exempt Naramata and Kaleden schools from consideration due to their rural subsidies. We are asking for the same clarity and decisiveness so that we may decide whether to move forward.
As I see it, the provenance of the rural subsidy is a separate issue. Many rural schools are subsidized and this subsidy ultimately comes from pockets of taxpayers. West Bench Elementary is currently not subsidized by the province due to what some residents believe is an oversight in the eligibility criteria. The RDOS proposal merely seeks to fill the subsidy gap until either enrollment growth makes subsidization unnecessary or a provincial rural grant is secured.
Based on my reading of your story in The Herald, it sounds like the Board of Education declined to answer the critical question above. If so, it is problematic because the Regional District cannot proceed with the establishment of a new service based on a vague commitment to "discuss reopening" (your words). We need a yes or no. Again, I point to the clarity of SD67's Naramata and Kaleden decisions.
Of course SD67 has a parallel requirement for certainty and I recognize that West Bench Elementary might be closed until the RDOS subsidy is in place. That is SD67's decision. Whether it makes practical and economic sense to close and then reopen a school within a calendar year depends on one's expectation regarding voter assent on the West Bench.
Finally, on timelines, I have posted a clarification from Bill Newell here. The commitment would be for the 2017 budget year.
Let me know if you have any other questions.
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