School Board wants “education” high on the election debate

Board, councils seek common front and attempt to heal old wounds

By ROY WOOD

At least two themes will likely emerge later this month when the Okanagan-Similkameen school board holds it annual spring confabs with members of the local town councils.

The first will be an effort to present a united front focusing attention of the candidates in the current provincial election on the chronic problems faced by rural school districts in offering quality education.

The second will revolve around whether Osoyoos council and the school board can get past the heated and often acrimonious relationship that emerged last spring when the town’s high school nearly closed.

As to the provincial campaign, board Chair Marieze Tarr said a recent interview: “The purpose of the meeting is the board feels very strongly about keeping public education at the forefront of everyone’s mind in the upcoming election.

“(And) we want to meet with (the councils) to discuss some strategies about how we can work together to make that happen.”

Osoyoos Councillor Mike Campol is sympathetic, but points out that education “doesn’t seem to be a hot-button issue in the election so far.”

“It’s all political,” said Campol, who serves as council liaison to the school district. “It appears they want to discuss our views on sustainable quality education and the purpose seems to be to get messaging out to the political candidates. … I think the collaboration of the municipality and the school board is really what they are trying to show.”

Oliver Councillor Larry Schwartzenberger, who shares liaison duties with Councillor Petra Veintimilla, said it may be “a little late in the game” to attempt to influence the provincial election.

The campaign officially gets underway on April 9, with the election scheduled for May 9.

“So to try to get some sort of consensus and figure out how you’re going to get that to the public … in my mind would take more than a month, but I’ll be interested to see what they have to say,” said Schwartzenberger.

As for the rift between Osoyoos council and the board, there has been considerable healing since the closure of OSS was averted last summer with the last-minute infusion of cash from the province.

Campol regularly attends board and education committee meetings and other functions. “They’ve allowed me to speak. They’ve interacted with me well,” he said.

“Historically (council) didn’t play a big part. We didn’t attend meetings and stay in the know as a municipality. They seem to welcome (the change) … the relationship feels a lot better,” said Campol.

Central to the animosity that arose last year when OSS was on the block was the contention by the town that it was caught off guard and that there should have been some warning from the board.

Chair Tarr argues that the board warned of the dangers associated with the “structural deficit” the district was operating under and the continuing peril of declining enrollment and its further impact on the financial situation.

These issues were raised at the April 2015 meeting with councils, including two members from Osoyoos, and in the regular “board reports” that Tarr publishes on line and sends to mayors and councils.

In a story published on ODN in June 2015 Tarr warned that, in the face of the structural deficit, the board “would look at every facility” in the district.

Campol concedes that council should have been paying closer attention.

“I’d be the first to argue that councils should have been more engaged, including this one,” he said. “That’s why I’m taking the position I am now of being there and not missing a meeting.

“(But) I’m not going in there with a chip on m shoulder. I quite openly celebrate when I think they’re doing something well and I challenge when something needs to be challenged,” he said.

“I think we’ve learned from (events of the past) and we’re in a far better place as far as not being caught off guard.”

The board will meet with representatives from both councils in separate meetings on April 12. The Osoyoos Indian Band will join the meeting with Oliver council.

A meeting with Keremeos council hasn’t been scheduled yet, but Tarr expects it to occur later this month.

 

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