By ROY WOOD

The fledgling Osoyoos Independent School (OIS) committee has asked the Town of Osoyoos for financial and other forms of support as it works toward opening an independent secondary school in September.

Such a school would be a partial replacement for Osoyoos Secondary School (OSS), which will close at the end of June. The committee has been budgeting based on 100 students, fewer than half the 240 students currently at OSS.

The current preference of the committee is to form a partnership with the Good Shepherd Christian School, which is affiliated with the Lutheran Church.

“We’ve got a big list (of requests),” committee chair and spokesperson Brenda Dorosz said in an interview this week, “similar to what they offered the school district.”

As the Okanagan-Similkameen school district board moved toward a decision earlier this spring to shutter OSS, the Town offered financial help of $350,000 a year for three years to help the district cope with its budget deficit and keep the high school open. The district turned the offer down for a number of reasons.

Asked if the committee is seeking the same financial package, Ms. Dorosz said, “Yes, (but) we don’t think we would get that if we get the (Sonora Centre) facility.”

High on the list of help being sought is use of large parts of the Sonora Centre as a campus.

“We’ve asked for specific use … of all the rooms upstairs. Like classrooms and we would have to look at making a science lab.”

As to what the chances are of the Town coming up with money or in-kind support, Ms. Dorosz said she has no idea. Mayor Sue McKortoff and chief administrative officer Barry Romanko are both away.

“We’ve even talked to individual councilors trying to get a feel. And they’re not talking about it at all.”

Councillor Jim King said in an interview Tuesday that Council would likely not make a decision on the requests until the council meeting of May 30, unless a special meeting is called in the interim.

“We’ve asked staff to give us a report on what changes would have to made (at the Sonora Centre) so we can hear both sides of the story,” he said.

Sonora is the Town’s main recreation centre and is home to recreational, leisure and athletic activities and programs as well as the town’s branch of the Okanagan Regional Library.

The decisions to focus on the Sonora Centre, and other decisions about a possible independent school, have been made by a nine-member executive and a 15 to16-member committee of volunteers.

Ms. Dorosz acknowledges that the executive was elected only by the committee and that the committee was not elected by anyone. That, she added, might give a perception that the group is not representative of the community.

“(But) there are people who need to come together and get it done,” she said. “It’s the same thing as when I formed the Save our Schools. I took the first few people who got in touch with me and that’s what I went with,” she said.

The original committee was put together in April by prominent local dentist Jason Bartsch, who held the first public meeting discussing an independent school on April 21.

Dr. Bartsch declined to stand for election to the executive on Friday, citing time pressures and a busy schedule. He has told the group he will be available to support them, but simply doesn’t have the time to be its spokesperson.

Forming a partnership with the Good Shepherd School would not have been Dr. Bartsch’s first choice.

“I have a bigger vision,” he said in a recent interview. “I know there is a need to get something temporarily done. (But) I don’t know whether or not Good Shepherd is going to be the long-range solution for the community.”

Ms. Dorosz said the OIS has not ruled out other possible partners, like Studio 9, based in Kelowna. “We’ve chosen who we would prefer, but we haven’t decided for sure.”

The school the OIS envisions is a two-campus Good Shepherd operation, with the elementary students in their current location adjacent to the Lutheran church and the secondary students upstairs at the Sonora Centre.

The parish board is meeting this week to discuss whether and under what conditions it would proceed with a partnership with OIS.

Good Shepherd is a decidedly religious school. Its mission statement says: “The mission of Good Shepherd Christian School is to provide families with Christian education in which God’s Word is taught, excellence in academic, social, emotional, artistic, and physical development is nurtured, and salvation through Jesus Christ is proclaimed.”

Ms. Dorosz says she doesn’t know what the parish board might demand by way of religious education for secondary students, but she is confident it can be accommodated.

Indo-Canadian students make up about 40 per cent of the student body at OSS, Ms. Dorosz said. And many of them practice the Sikh faith, not Christianity.

“But) they’re very, very, very interested in academics,” said Ms. Dorosz. “As long as we can provide the academics, I think the religion can be taken care of.”

The other potential partner, Studio 9, has a definite fine arts focus. But Dr. Bartsch, who made the initial contact with the school, says their model is flexible enough that it could be adapted to the needs of an Osoyoos school. Options that have come up in the past include a golf academy and hockey academy.

The OIS executive is trying to have a Studio 9 representative in Osoyoos by the end of next week for a meeting.

Good Shepherd and Studio 9 are both so-called Category One separate schools and receive per-student funding from the province at half the rate provided to the public system. In Osoyoos, that amounts to about $3,800 per students per year.

The preliminary budget prepared by the OIS estimates costs at about $8,000 per student per year.

The budget calls for annual tuition of about $1,000 per student, leaving about $3,200 to be acquired from somewhere else. If the 100+ student estimate holds up, the OIS needs to find about $320,000.

Ms. Dorosz said that once a partnership has been established, the group will begin fundraising in earnest. Besides what they may secure from the Town, corporate sponsorship will be high on the list along with anything else the group can think of.

As well, she said, “The East Indian community has lots of ideas in place about fundraising, and that kind of stuff. They do theirs a little bit differently than we do. … So we will come together and work with them.”

The committee hopes to have a five-year business plan completed this week and to hold a public information meeting soon.

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