ARMSTRONG, B.C. – The North Okanagan-Shuswap School Board voted to start a formal 60-day consultation process Tuesday night that could result in Armstrong and Silver Creek elementary schools shutting their doors by next fall. Parents in both communities are fighting the move.
North Okanagan-Shuswap school board looking at closing or restructuring schools
WATCH: ‘Status-quo is not an option’ for North Okanagan-Shuswap schools
School closures recommended in North Okanagan- Shuswap School District
Parents in Armstrong say they have already collected over 1,700 signatures on their petition. They are hoping to convince the district to keep all four of Armstrong’s schools open, including Armstrong Elementary, which is currently being considered for closure.
Parent Brandy Weeks believes school officials are underestimating the number of children who will be entering Armstrong schools in the coming years.
“I think it is very short-sighted to close any of our schools,” she said. “Based on their own projections they are already looking at portables in the future.”
The school board chair doesn’t deny that portables are possible in the long term, but says right now they can fit all Armstrong students in three schools with room for growth.
The school board is looking at closing the schools as it grapples with a $1.3-million budget shortfall while thousands of student desks across the district sit empty.
“We recognize the impacts on schools and communities,” said School District 83 Superintendent Glenn Borthistle. “Our responsibility is to make the best decisions we can in the interests of all the students across our district.”
Silver Creek Elementary is also potentially on the chopping block.
“It is going to shatter the community,” says parent Amanda Crawford of the possible closure. “We all live out here because we want our children to go to a rural school. Urbanizing our children is not the answer to save money.”
However, the school district believes closing down schools is not the end of the world. Johnson points to the closure of Salmon Arm Elementary as an example.
“Those kids survived. They did very well. They flourished. It didn’t break the community down here. This community is still a strong community,” she said.
There’s no doubt parents will still make their voices heard before a final decision, which will come after the 60 day period ending April 9.
“[I] just want to urge parents to rally the government for more funding so that the district doesn’t have to make such difficult decisions,” said Crawford.
The province says in the last 16 years per student and overall funding to the district has increased even as the area’s enrolment has dropped.
“Boards are not funded on space, but rather on student enrolment, and at times boards have to make difficult decisions like closing under-utilized facilities in order to save costs,” wrote a B.C. Education Ministry spokesperson in a statement.
“It’s critical we focus the maximum number of tax dollars on kids in the classroom.”
The district estimates closing Armstrong Elementary and reconfiguring the other schools in that community would save $500,000 annually and closing Silver Creek and moving students to Salmon Arm West Elementary would save $200,000 each year.