There were tears, hugs and expressions of “everything is going to be OK” this morning as students and staff at Osoyoos Secondary School went about their business after learning the previous evening the fate of their school.
And then everyone gathered in the same auditorium where about 12 hours earlier four trustees from other Okanagan Similkameen communities voted to close the school and bus students to Oliver.
“I knew I was going to meet with you, but I wasn’t sure exactly what I was going to say,” OSS principal Mike Safek began after the 200-plus students attending that day had settled.
“There is no manual for this kind of thing.”
After expressing his pride for student behavior over three months of uncertainty, Mr. Safek reminded students they would not be alone if they attended South Okanagan Secondary School in Oliver next June.
“There will be familiar faces there,” he told the students. “Most of our staff will be there. Most of your friends will be there.”
The questions that followed suggest OSS students are still trying to make sense of the Board decision.
One student asked if the decision were final. Another wondered how it was possible trustees living in other communities could make a decision about “their” school.
And finally, the specter of an independent or private school was broached.
The school has arranged for additional support staff to be in the school at least today to deal with student concerns, encouraging those who want to share their fears and frustrations to meet with counselors.
The process that ended Wednesday began in January with a “facilities report,” which outlined the financial situation of the district and the issues that have risen as a result of declining enrollments.
It showed the budget deficit for the current school year at $530,000, rising to $1.1 million in 2016/17 and $1.4 million in 2017/18.
The recently announced per-student funding from the province — the source of virtually all of the district’s funds – offered no relief from the budget squeeze. The funding level has been falling for several years. District-wide enrolment was 2,292 students in 2011. It is 2,144 this year and is expected to drop to 1,910 in 2024.
Parents and others in the community have vowed to start their own school rather than bus their children to Oliver.