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Three South Okanagan Schools officially on chopping block

Three south Okanagan schools are now officially being considered for closure.

The School District 67 School Board voted Wednesday night to move ahead to public consultation surrounding its Long-Range Facilities plan.

“The motion to go forward with public consultation was passed unanimously by the board,” said School District 67 board chair James Palanio.

“We did get some questions at the end of end of the meeting. Mostly we got positive comments and support for us going forward. We did have some questions as to how it may look, the specifics, and we’ll get those answered over the next 60 days.”

School district staff have recommended moving towards an elementary-secondary school model, which would mean closing Parkway Elementary and Carmi Elementary in Penticton as well as Giant’s Head Elementary School in Summerland.

The plan also recommends doing away with middle schools entirely.

“We think (it) is a very good plan,” said Palanio. “It’s a very well thought out (plan), years of work put into it, but that said, we’re going to get the public feedback. We’re going to listen and then we’ll take another look at it and see if we have in fact missed anything.”

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

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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.

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

“These are very sensitive topics and issues, talking about making changes to the school district and particularly the potential of school consolidation,” said School District 67 superintendent Todd Manuel.

“Trustees and certain staff are very sensitive to that and so we’re mindful being present, we hear public questions, receive feedback, and to make sure that we’re making decisions that allow us to focus on both programs and services for our kids.”

Meanwhile, Summerland Mayor Doug Holmes says the district has received a few emails from some concerned parents regarding the proposed changes, but is directing all questions to the school district.

According to Holmes, the district will continue to work on ways to attract young families to the area despite potentially losing a school.

“We’re waiting to hear as much as anybody is as the district,” said Holmes.

“That’s why we build amenities, that’s why we build skate parks and have all these features that attract young families. I think Summerland is a really attractive place to raise a family; I raised my family there.”

At this time, district staff are working on how, exactly, the public consultation process will unfold and staff have committed to issuing more information about the process by the end of the day Friday.

“There’ll be multiple levels of consultation. Our policy states a 60-day consultation period,” said Manuel.

“In terms of how that will look, there will be both in-person opportunities for consultation. There will also be the ongoing engagement with our website where we’ll be taking, receiving information from the community, providing answers, listening, responding, building FAQ documents about the proposals in front of the board.”

Global News reached out to the District Parent Advisory Council (DPAC), but no one was available for an interview on Thursday.

DPAC said in an email to Global News that they are looking forward to participating in the public engagement sessions and to have parent and PAC questions answered.

“We’re looking forward to really getting into that fulsome engagement period in February where we can have those direct conversations and listen, and then make sure that we’re being responsive and answering questions that people have about the plan,” said Manuel.

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