The news hit Osoyoos earlier this month like a poorly forecasted hurricane: one of the community’s two schools would likely be shuttered before the 2016-17 school year commenced.
Pick your poison, Osoyoos: live with the closing of Osoyoos Elementary School or forget about those early-morning and mid-afternoon excursions up 62 Ave to Osoyoos Secondary School. One or the other has to go; either way, the older kids will have to travel by bus to Oliver for classes.
The natural inclination for those caught in the local drama would be to adopt an Us vs. Them philosophy (ie., taking the position another school in another South Okanagan-Similkameen community should be closed).
A better strategy, though, would be for the South Okanagan-Similkameen community — from Kalenden and OK Falls to Keremeos and Cawston — to stand together: board trustees working with other local elected officials, parents in Osoyoos communicating with their counterparts in Oliver — and pushing the budget deficit back where it belongs: to the province.
That’s what this is — a provincial budget dumped on local trustees to administer, to lose sleep over and ultimately to make the tough decisions required to fit it within their box. It is a budget imposed on the school division by a provincial government that doles out funding based on a philosophy of running a tight ship.
The trouble is tight ships don’t sail well in the waters of public service — especially when the passengers aboard start to rock the boat.
Osoyoos trustee Marieze Tarr, who chairs the district board, was reported elsewhere as saying she and her fellow trustees were elected to be “fiscally responsible.” In fact, says Ms. Tarr, if the board were to return a deficit budget, “we as trustees would all be fired.”
But just how far does that fiscal responsibility extend? Are trustees responsible only to the school division? Or do they also have a higher moral and social responsibility to the extended community in which they serve? Does their fiscal responsibility extend only through the time trustees are in office? Or do they have a responsibility to secure the future as well?
You can read elsewhere what the proposed shuttering of one of the Osoyoos schools (and the attending transportation of high school students to Oliver) is expected to do to the community. The prognosis is, at best, uncertain; at worst, it would be a substantial denigration of quality of life for Osoyoos and its citizens.
All that will just be the beginning. The woes Osoyoos will suffer as its schools start to close will eventually travel. Keremeos could be next. Or Okanagan Falls. The entire school district might eventually be folded into another district; at least one prominent Osoyoos leader is suggesting that should probably happen right now.
Or the South Okanagan could stand up. It could tell its school board to go back to the Ministry of Education for more, to say keeping our students in their own communities is a priority to the region.
Isn’t that what good management is all about? Standing up to those to whom you are responsible for those for whom you are responsible?
It comes down to making a simple decision — do we proverbially set adrift a small group of passengers (OSS students) in order to buy time for a sinking ship? Or do we get all hands on deck to find a way to keep the boat afloat?
We’d like to hear your thoughts, your ideas. More importantly, we want to get those thoughts and ideas into the hands — and minds — of those who can make use of them.
Please feel free to contribute those thoughts, to share them here within this forum and to share them at one of the public meetings scheduled for the coming weeks.