Following an in-camera discussion with the Osoyoos Independent School (OIS) committee on Monday, council brought forward to its regular meeting a motion saying town staff has been asked to prepare a report on the possible use of the Sonora Community Centre for the school and on providing municipal funding, including the possibility of putting the matter to a referendum.
The proposed independent community high school took a big step forward last Thursday night when the board overseeing Good Shepherd Christian School voted to pursue a partnership with the OIS, that could lead to a Kindergarten to Grade 12 school operated by Good Shepherd.
But the Voters Assembly of Grace Lutheran Church needs to be assured that the independent school has a facility and funding before the partnership can move forward with establishing the school, said Angela Westcott, principal of Good Shepherd.
Westcott also sits on the church’s Voters Assembly as well as on the OIS committee.
“The partnership is not done yet,” cautioned Brenda Dorosz, chair of OIS last week. “There are things that we have to do and one of them is (to obtain a) facility. But the great news is they did not say no. They voted to continue working with us.”
The decision was a huge relief.
“We were all on pins and needles,” she said. “It’s very, very positive.”
Dorosz said OIS met with Good Shepherd last Wednesday evening at length to discuss the business plan and to try to iron out any concerns either side had.
Westcott said she’s confident the independent school would be open in September if the funding and facility issues can be resolved.
“If those things fall into place, the support (of the Voters Assembly) was overwhelmingly supportive for this to move forward,” said Westcott.
Although Good Shepherd is a Christian School, it follows the same curriculum as public schools. The religious component would be considered an optional elective at the high school level.
At the meeting with council on Monday, OIS had 10 minutes to present its case and councillors posed questions, said Dorosz. Councillors then discussed the matter further after OIS left.
OIS hopes to use the top floor of the Sonora Community Centre for the school, but the needs of other users of the centre will have to be accommodated, Dorosz said.
OIS last week met with Gerald Davis, town director of community services, to try to work out some of those details.
OIS is also asking for shared use of the gym as well as outdoor facilities such as Desert Park and the Kinsmen field for physical education programs.
They are also seeking the same $352,000 per year that the town was willing to offer School District 53 (SD 53) over three years to keep Osoyoos Secondary School (OSS) open.
SD 53 turned down that offer saying their minds were already made up to close OSS.
“We gave them a significant ask list, so we have to wait,” said Dorosz.
Meanwhile, OIS plans a town hall meeting to update the community on May 24 at 7 p.m. in the gymnasium at the Sonora Community Centre, she said.
Developments on the new school have been taking place daily, said Dorosz, adding there’s been one meeting or other virtually every night.
Finalizing the rental of a facility is the next big step and Dorosz said OIS had asked the town to make a decision by May 20.
But with council seeking a staff report, and with Barry Romanko, the town’s chief administrative officer, currently away it’s unlikely there will be a decision before the May 24 town hall meeting.
Dorosz noted that the upstairs capacity of the Sonora centre is 205 people. OIS has come up with a schedule to try to accommodate existing users.
“We don’t want to displace people,” said Dorosz. “So we will do everything in our power as a community school – because I think it’s going to be a true community school – to not displace.”
She added that if any displacement is required, volunteers are prepared to help with renovations to ensure the least disruption possible.
Dorosz said she plans further meetings in coming days to explore the possibility of establishing a golf academy and a soccer academy at the new school.
At the town hall on May 24, registration for the new school will be taking place. This will help to provide a better estimate the number of students who would attend the independent school.
Dorosz said OIS would also be seeking volunteers for some of the sub-committees at the meeting.
She said she’s also had talks with officials at the Ministry of Education about taking over the present OSS site, but she noted this would take too long to make it possible for the 2016-17 school year.
It is an option for down the road, she said.
This would require some kind of agreement with SD 53, which she acknowledges could be difficult in the near term.
“They’re not too happy with us right now,” she said.
Good Shepherd Christian School was established in 1990 and until now it has operated as a Kindergarten to Grade 7 elementary school.
Enrolment has fluctuated over the years, Westcott said. This year enrolment is low at just 15 students, but last year there were more than 30.
There are two full-time teachers and two educational assistants, she said.
At the elementary level, this has meant blended classrooms, but Westcott said she doesn’t anticipate there will be as much need for blended classrooms at the high school level.
“With the draft timetables that we have been working with, it doesn’t look like it’s going to be as necessary as you would think, actually,” she said, adding this depends on overall enrolment.
Dorosz said that until more precise numbers are nailed down, OIS is planning based on 100 high school students at the independent school.
She acknowledges that a number of students will choose to go to Oliver because they believe they’ll have more course options at Southern Okanagan Secondary School (SOSS) even if this isn’t necessarily the case.
But the independent school will launch a recruitment drive, she said, and this could result in some Oliver students choosing to come to Osoyoos.
She also highlighted the appeal of an independent school for special needs students, many of whom cannot ride the bus to Oliver.
Although a category 1 independent school only receives half the per-student provincial funding that public schools get, they receive the same funding, about $18,500 per child, for special needs students.
Dorosz said there are about 30 designated special needs children affected by the closure of OSS.
With the full funding the independent school would get, it will be easier to provide for special needs students at a smaller school, she pointed out.
Dorosz also anticipates the school may need to offer some courses using distributed learning, combined with local volunteer support.
There are a lot of retired teachers in Osoyoos willing to help, she points out.
The goal is to set an affordable tuition fee of $100 per month, she said, adding that will require sponsorships, donations and fundraising.
The committee is currently planning to raffle a 2001 BMW 323 vehicle valued at about $7,500, which was donated by J.F. Launier, she said.
OIS is now waiting for a gaming license before the raffle can be held.
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