By ROY WOOD
The emotional roller coaster ride surrounding the threatened closure of Osoyoos Secondary School took another sharp curve Wednesday as the province announced funding that could potentially keep the doors open.
Less than three weeks after MLA Linda Larson raised and then crushed hopes for a reprieve on the school shuttering, the province has announced a program it says is aimed at keeping imperiled rural schools open.
The so-called “Rural Education Enhancement Fund” was announced in Quesnel by Premier Christy Clark.
The fund is aimed at nine specific schools, all outside the Lower Mainland, Victoria and Kelowna. Osoyoos secondary is on the list.
The premier said in a release: “Closing the only high school or elementary school in a rural community has a large impact on that local economy.
“With Canada’s strongest economy it’s important that we make sure the benefits are shared by rural communities throughout our province to ensure they have the infrastructure they need to grow, attract talent, and provide critical services like health care. Our rural education strategy will help us accomplish this.”
According to the release, districts will be eligible to funding equal to what they would save by closing the school. During the process leading up to the decision to close the school, the district estimated it would save close to $400,000 per year by closing OSS.
Districts are eligible to apply or the funding every year.
One possible fly in the ointment is an item in the release that says: “Closures due to facility condition or extreme enrolment decline are not included.”
Steadily declining enrolments and the deteriorating condition of the OSS building were both cited among the rationale for closure.
Okanagan-Similkameen School Board chair Marieze Tarr was not available for comment on Wednesday, but earlier told the Penticton Herald the board would have no comment until it has had a chance to study the announcement.
Ms. Larson got Osoyoos residents’ hopes up on May 31 when she held a news conference at the town hall to announce the local district’s $118,000 share of a province-wide rebate. The amount was quickly dismissed as insufficient and too short-term to keep the school open.
The release also mentioned that Ms. Larson has been appointed parliamentary secretary for rural development and will help conduct a province-wide survey of rural education funding.