SD 53 never spoke to town about $1 million offer because minds already made up – Tarr

osoyoos

Trustees of School District 53 had already decided to close Osoyoos Secondary School (OSS) when they received an offer from the Town of Osoyoos of more than $1 million over three years to keep the school open.

School board chair Marieze Tarr acknowledged last Wednesday during another tense meeting between trustees and Osoyoos residents trying one last time to keep OSS open that this was the reason the school district didn’t discuss the offer with the town before rejecting it.

The admission came shortly after trustees voted 4-3 to approve third reading of a bylaw that will close OSS as of June 30.

The town announced Monday is would be going to court to fight the school board’s decision, calling into question the process followed by the school district.

“The problem is we received the letter of financial promise last week, which was after the decision was already made to close the school.” Tarr said, when asked by a member of the audience why there was no discussion with the town of its offer.

“Now we’re being honest,” interjected Osoyoos councillor Mike Campol, as others, stunned by Tarr’s response, called out that the school board had planned to close OSS all along and the “consultation” process was a waste of time.

Tarr repeatedly banged her gavel at these interjections and announced she was adjourning the meeting.

Members of Osoyoos council were present at the meeting attended by more than 120 people in the hot and stuffy annex of the school district offices in Oliver.

Before the vote, they pleaded with the board to listen to the Osoyoos community, reverse the decision made April 6 when the bylaw received two readings, and instead grant a year’s delay to find a solution.

Coun. C.J. Rhodes spoke before the board voted, telling them he was going to forego the speaking notes he usually uses.

“Tonight I’m going to talk to you from my heart,” he said, as he spoke of how the Osoyoos community came together with as many as 20 to 25 per cent of the town showing up at public meetings.

“I beg you, I implore you to change your mind,” he said. “You are empowered to change your mind tonight and make the decision that is right, to not go down in history as making that pinnacle of bad decisions.”

Mayor Sue McKortoff told the board that the town’s offer of more than $1 million would have addressed the school district’s budget problem. She pointed out that, contrary to the belief of trustees, it was not contingent on a referendum if the town delayed other projects and used funding that was already allocated in the budget.

“We are asking for a one-year delay on your decision allowing more time to consider district plans,” she said. “Residents need more time to make decisions about the future of their children’s education. Our community is engaged and prepared to work with you for the betterment of all.”

She noted that projected net savings to the district by closing OSS would be $387,300 based on SD 53’s projection of increased busing costs at $67,400.

“We are prepared to refute that figure as our transportation experts believe that the (busing) figure could easily be double that amount,” McKortoff said. “The savings to close OSS could possibly be $275,000, which is a small hurdle to overcome as compared to the social and economic damage that closing the school will cause to our community.”

If the board voted to close OSS, McKortoff warned the town would have no other option “but to initiate what we feel is the worst option” – going to court.

“Legal proceedings are in draft form right now,” she said, holding up a still-unsigned affidavit from an Osoyoos parent. “We are prepared to stop or start this process tonight.”

The town is considering seeking an injunction, which would temporarily halt the closure, and possibly a judicial review of the process used by the school district to close OSS or other legal action.

Despite the pleas from parents, PAC (Parent Advisory Council) representatives, council members, a retired superintendent of schools from West Vancouver, and NDP Education Critic Rob Fleming, the vote was a repeat of the ones on April 6.

The two Oliver trustees – Rob Zandee and Rachel Allenbrand – were joined by Debbie Marten of Cawston-Keremeos and Sam Hancheroff of Okanagan Falls in voting to close the school.

Those voting against were the two Osoyoos trustees, June Harrington and Tarr, as well as Cawston-Keremeos trustee Myrna Coates.

Speeches by the trustees covered the same points as the April 6 meeting. They argued the board faced funding pressures with declining enrolment and downloaded cost pressures from the province, that students will be better off in a larger school with more course choices and larger class sizes.

Several trustees also took exception to the criticism trustees have faced on social media, through letters and verbal comments and in the media.

Throughout their speeches (see video on OsoyoosTimes.com), trustees faced interjections and jeers from the audience, often from Campol.

When Zandee talked about what trustees have faced, Campol interjected: “We get it Rob, you’re the victim.”

An angry Zandee responded: “This is exactly what I’m talking about.”

After the meeting, Campol expressed surprise that the board never discussed the fact that they didn’t need to close the school because the town was offering to fund it.

He thinks this is because the idea conflicted with what the board wanted the end result to be – the closure of OSS.

“If a suggestion or an idea doesn’t fit the narrative of closing the school, it’s not worth debating (by the board),” he said.

The community and council came up with good cost-saving ideas, he said, but time was an obstacle to implementing them.

“We literally bought the time to explore those options over a year, two years, three years. So there was no reason to close the school except that they wanted it to be closed. It had nothing to do with budget and they proved that tonight.”

Campol said the process was disingenuous and it is now up to the courts to decide.

Coun. Rhodes said he was disappointed the town’s financial offer wasn’t properly discussed, even though a letter from Tarr stating reasons for the rejection appeared to have been thought out.

“It’s important for everyone to know that there was no interaction with council of any kind,” Rhodes said after the meeting. “There was not a telephone call, there was not an attempt of any kind to interact regarding that subject in any way, shape or form.”

Coun. Carol Youngberg pointed out that a discussion of the board’s budget the night before, in which members of the community participated, identified $901,000 in possible savings.

She thinks the decision to close OSS was made prior to the Jan. 13 meeting when the board voted to begin “public consultations.”

Brenda Dorosz, chair of the Save Our Schools (SOS) committee, was subdued and conciliatory in her comments to the board before the vote.

“I didn’t have anything else to say,” she explained after the meeting. “I’ve said enough in the last three months and I felt they weren’t going to listen to us, so I just stood up and didn’t want to get angry. Our kids matter and education should be first. It was a done deal and it’s just not fair to our kids.”

Now, she said, efforts will move full-speed ahead to establish an independent school in Osoyoos.

Harrington, the only trustee to have consistently opposed closure of OSS, said she was devastated by the board’s decision.

“I just so wanted for kids to be able to go to school in their own community,” she said. “I just wish I could have convinced the others, but somehow minds are made up.”

Asked how it’s been for her personally to be outnumbered on the board, she replied: “Very tough. I’ve had a lot of sleepless nights.”

RICHARD McGUIRE

Osoyoos Times

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SD 67 trustees drop $14K on Vancouver trip just days after closing 3 schools

Only days after closing three schools due to a projected budget shortfall, trustees with Okanagan School District 67 spent $13,564 to attend a B.C. School Trustees Association’s conference in Vancouver.

Six trustees along with superintendent Wendy Hyer and secretary-treasurer Bonnie Roller Routley attended the annual general meeting April 14-17 at the Hyatt Regency hotel in downtown Vancouver, according to information provided by the district upon request.

This came on the heels of the board’s decision April 11 to close West Bench Elementary, Trout Creek Elementary and McNicoll Park Middle School in Penticton.

Of the six trustees in attendance (Bruce Johnson was absent due to health issues), Summerland trustees Julie Planiden and board chair Linda Van Alphen claimed the most in expenses — $1,985 and $1,964, respectively, which included an additional night in a hotel.

Planiden’s expenses included $808 for hotels, $314 for travel and $242 for miscellaneous, while Van Alphen spent $808 on hotels, $318 on travel and $217 on miscellaneous.

Penticton trustee Shelley Clarke’s expense claim includes $570 for travel.

Van Alphen defended her added expense, noting she, Planiden and Ginny Manning (who had one night paid for by BCSTA because of serving on a standing committee) arrived one day earlier due to meetings on the Thursday morning.

“At times, some trustees have expense accounts that are significantly higher than others,” Van Alphen said. “I believe this would be dependent on what their specific assignments might be at the provincial level and the meeting that they have a responsibility to attend.”

It was the second of two recent BCSTA conferences for school trustees, the earlier coming in November when SD67 spent $12,937 for what was dubbed the BCSTA Academy.

Over six months, the board spent a total of $26,501 on the two conferences.

Retired teacher David Perry, a former mayor and one-term trustee with SD67, was critical of the board’s spending in a letter to the editor published April 16, suggesting only the chair needs to attend.

“Such irrelevant workshops as ‘Public Education and the Social License’ and ‘Damned Nations: Greed Guns and Armies’ are on the agenda. Nothing on ‘School Closures,’ ‘Government Underfunding,’ ‘Supporting parents of closed schools,’ etc., which are the real issues trustees have left at home,” Perry wrote.

Figures for Okanagan Similkameen School District 53 are presently unavailable but The Herald has requested them as well.

Like their counterparts to the north, SD53 closed Osoyoos Secondary School before heading to Vancouver. SD53 took six trustees plus one staff member to the convention.

“It’s unfortunate that it happened at a time when we were closing a school,” said SD53 vice-chair Sam Hancheroff. “That’s part of our job. We go to conferences to discuss with other school districts what they’re doing. We had the Education Minister there and everyone was asking him the same question everyone else was — we need more money.”

SD53 chair Marieze Tarr defended the spending, noting, “The money that is provided for (conventions) comes out of the board’s governance so it’s out of a different pot of money and that’s budgeted for every year.”

The following is a list of expenses for both conferences for Okanagan Skaha School District 67 trustees.

BCSTA annual meeting

Trustees:

Julie Planiden, $1,985

Linda Van Alphen, $1,964

Shelley Clarke, $1,869

Bill Bidlake, $1,721

Ginny Manning, $1,623

Barb Sheppard, $1,322

Staff:

Bonnie Roller Routley, $1,560

Wendy Hyer, $1,516

BCSTA Academy

Trustees:

Bruce Johnson, $1,719

Bill Bidlake, $1,634

Julie Planiden, $1,504

Barb Shepard, $1,455

Linda Van Alphen, $1,405

Shelley Clarke, $1,291

Ginny Manning, $1,249

Staff:

Bonnie Roller Routley, $1,503

Wendy Hyer, $1,173

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LSL- (Osoyoos)-A community Destroyed School District 53 Final hearing

Locals Supporting Locals Independant media
(OSOYOOS) School District 53 voted Thursday night to shut down the only high school in Osoyoos despite offer from the city of Osoyoos with 1 million dollar grant. Please listen in full sadly we suffered technical difficulty and could not record the Q&A because that’s where it became transparent that the decision was made way prior to hearings. Audio was recorded to back the claim up and there is more to come. Osoyoos has shown they are far from done and have shown what a community can do when it is united
Visit our website to view all the hearings that lead up to the closurehttps://localssupportinglocals.wordpr… for all the proceedings of the hearings