Editor’s Note: Updated to include comments from Board Chairperson Marieze Tarr.

The Okanagan Similkameen School District wants a little more structure to a March 8 consultation meeting following a raucous initial session February 9 when up to 1,000 Osoyoos residents showed up to express their displeasure about a potential school closing.

The district Thursday afternoon released a Process Update that provides for those wishing to speak at the forum:

  • to advise the school district in writing no later than noon March 7;
  • indicate which if any group or organization is being represented; and,
  • summarize in bullet points the messaging to be delivered.

“None of (the trustees) liked how it went,” explained Board chair Marieze Tarr. “We didn’t think it was very purposeful. And some of us felt it was disrespectful.”

That, she added, was a sentiment shared among members of the public who provided feedback to the board.

Ms. Tarr said the district took its concerns to other districts that have “gone through closure consultations quite a few times.”

“They came up with the same suggestions: moderator, keep it to a strict time, ask people to hand in their questions beforehand so that staff can also be a little prepared by knowing what kind of questions are coming and can have the answers ready.”

At issue are two options put to the school board by senior staff in January to deal with the looming budget crisis resulting from declining enrollments, reduced provincial funding and excess classroom capacity.

The only two proposals approved by the board to move forward were:

  1. Close Osoyoos Secondary School (OSS) and transfer students to South Okanagan Secondary School (SOSS) in Oliver.
  2. Close Osoyoos Elementary, transfer students to OSS, making it a kindergarten-to-grade-8 school, and transfer grades 10-12 to SOS.

At the February 9 meeting, more than 40 parents, politicians, students and others waited their turns at two microphones to express their views and offer ideas.

As part of the March 8 process, those registered to speak are being asked to keep their comments to less than three minutes. All who sign up to speak will be heard, Ms. Tarr said.

“I’m sure that we are going to try to accommodate everyone — just like we did last time. I don’t think we’re married to the two hours either; if it goes 20 minutes over I don’t think anyone is going to die.”

The form requesting addition to the Speakers List is located here.

The process change comes a day after several local media reported Education critic Rob Fleming would be attending the March 8 session and planned to address the Board. Ms. Tarr said Mr. Fleming’s wanting to speak had nothing to do with the process change.

“We would be happy for him to speak,” she said. “If he could in any way secure more funding for school districts, that is what we want. We need more provincial funding, especially for rural districts.”

The Board, Ms. Tarr added, has heard the concerns and suggestions delivered.

“We have asked staff to look at the four-day school week and the savings that would come from that,” she said.

“At the same time we are in this consultation process, we are building a budget. We haven’t heard our final numbers as to how much funding we will receive but we are looking at how we could cut costs. We are listening to what people are saying.”

Ms. Tarr also hinted the Board might consider postponing the decision.

“If on April 6, trustees feel they need more time to because some facts or some solution came forward that they would like to investigate further, that is certainly something trustees could do on April 6.”

The March 8 session is scheduled for 7 to 9 p.m. at the Sonora Centre.

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