Osoyoos Council asks Town staff to explore independent school funding referendum

By ROY WOOD

If the Osoyoos Independent School (OIS) committee is to get money from the Town of Osoyoos or access to the Sonora Centre, it will likely have to be approved by voters through a public assent process.

At an in-camera meeting on Monday, Osoyoos Town Council determined to ask staff to look at the possibility of a referendum on funding and the use of the Sonora Centre as the campus of an independent high school.

The motion was brought forward to the regular Monday council meeting. There was no public discussion by councillors on the issue.

The motion read: “The Osoyoos Independent School committee be advised that staff have been requested to prepare a report on a possible referendum for funding and use of the Sonora Community Centre and that a decision will be made at a special closed meeting.”

Asked why the decision on a referendum will be held at a closed meeting rather than an open one, Mayor Sue McKortoff cited “labour, land, and law” as three areas about which Council is legally permitted to make decisions in private.

The Sonora Centre, she said, is “land (and) there could be labour” issues involved as well.

The timing of the report from staff is not yet clear, since Chief Administrative Officer Barry Romanko is on vacation until next week.

However, the provincial Municipal Charter provides for several ways a local government can acquire elector support, including an assent process — commonly known as a referendum — and an Alternative Approval Process.

With the drafting of a report to Council, the likely passing of a funding bylaw and other measures required to garner elector assent, the entire process would likely take more 60 days if the Town were to travel the Alternative Approval Process route and more than 90 days if Assent Voting were required.

OIS is an ad hoc committee of area residents who hope to open an independent high school in September to at least partially replace Osoyoos Secondary School (OSS), which the Okanagan Similkameen School District voted last month to close at the end of June.

The Grade 8-12 students are to be transferred to Southern Okanagan Secondary School in Oliver.

The committee recently submitted to the Town a “big list” of requests for help, committee chair Brenda Dorosz said in an interview last week.

Topping the list are financial help and the use of the upstairs portion of the Sonora Centre for classrooms and some sort of sharing arrangement involving the centre’s gymnasium.

The financial requirements of a separate school are considerable.

Ms Dorosz said last week the committee is preparing budgets based on an annual per-student cost of $8,000.

The province will provide about $3,800 under the 50-per-cent funding formula for Category-A separate schools. And the committee hopes to contain annual tuition to about $1,000. Based on a hoped-for student body of 100, OIS needs to find about $320,000 a year to run a school.

The OIS is apparently close to a partnership agreement with the Good Shepherd Christian School, a small Kindergarten-to-Grade-7 facility associated with the Lutheran Church.

Ms Dorosz told media last week that an agreement with Good Shepherd is close after a positive vote by the parish board.

Phone calls to Good Shepherd School and the Lutheran Church to confirm the arrangement were not returned.

Ms Dorosz said that once a partnership has been established, her group will begin fundraising in earnest. Besides what the committee might secure from the Town, it has high hopes for corporate sponsorship.

Ms Dorosz was unavailable for comment Monday on Council’s decision to explore the possibility of a referendum.

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