By ROY WOOD
Emotions at a “wake” for Osoyoos Secondary School (OSS) were a bit confused Thursday evening as the event took place amid credible reports that the school may not be dead after all.
About 200 current and former staff and students gathered at the secondary school gym to share memories and to celebrate 37 years of history and to declare that, “while we may be losing our school … we will always be Rattlers.”
The gathering took place barely 30 hours after the provincial education ministry announced a funding program aimed specifically at rural schools like OSS facing closing due to declining enrolments and budget stress.
Okanagan Similkameen School Board chair Marieze Tarr addressed the gathering Thursday, but said it is too early to declare whether the new funding will keep the school open.
She told reporters later the Board met with senior district staff Thursday afternoon and drafted a letter to the ministry seeking further details about the funding announcement and the process for districts to apply.
Premier Christy Clark announced the so-called “Rural Education Enhancement Fund” on Wednesday. It is aimed at nine rural schools, including OSS, that are facing closing.
The funds available to each district are equal to the amount they would save by closing the schools. For OSS, that would be about $400,000. The deadline for applications to receive the new funding is June 30, the same day OSS is scheduled to close.
In an earlier interview Thursday, Tarr acknowledged a budget shortfall was a main reason for the decision this spring to shutter OSS. She said she is grateful for the funding announcement and the fact that it will be available on a yearly basis.
She cautioned, however, that another reason for closing the school is the deteriorating condition of the OSS building and the need for about $4 million in mechanical, electrical and other upgrades over the next few years.
A problem for rural districts like Osoyoos is that the ministry won’t fund capital upgrades to building that are less that 95 per cent occupied. OSS is not close to that.
She said she hopes the review of rural education that was also announced Wednesday will address the 95-per-cent threshold.
“That is going to be one of my key messages,” she said. “Obviously we cannot have (the 95-per-cent rule) in place for rural schools in an environment of declining enrolments.”
Tarr said a third reason for the decision to close OSS was that “we were finding it very challenging to provide a variety of academic courses and opportunities for students.”
She added, however, “A lot of people believe that the new timetable will address that.”
Staff and the Parents Advisory Committee spent much of the school year developing a new timetable aimed at addressing academic problems created by having a small student body.
Back at the celebration at the high school, hosted by principal Mike Safek, a succession of teachers and students took to the microphone to recall their favourite memories.
Most offered variations on the message that the thing that has made OSS special over the decades is its sense of community.
Said Mr. Safek: “(OSS) students support each other and treat each other so well, regardless of their grade.”
Singer-songwriter and former OSS student Kayla Turnbull performed her specially written Never Give Up.
A video collage of yearbook and other photos from over the decades opened to the strains of Green Day’s Time of Your Life.
In one of a few references to the school’s possible reprieve, a former teacher quoted a teacher of his own, who said, “If the horse is dead, it’s time to get off the horse.”
But, he added, “Maybe the horse ain’t dead yet.”