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Central Okanagan school trustees advocate for education funding needs

Central Okanagan Board of Education chair Lee-Ann Tiede among trustee contingent
Central Okanagan Board of Education chair Lee-Ann Tiede. (File photo)

School board chairs from across B.C. were given an audience with MLAs in Victoria to discuss education issues on Oct. 18.

Lee-Ann Tiede, chair of the Central Okanagan Board of Education, was one of 56 board chairs given the opportunity to participate in a day of advocacy on behalf of the BC School Trustees Association.

In her report on the meeting to school trustees at the general affairs committee meeting on Nov. 1, Tiede said the trustees were united on three key messages presented to the MLAs.

Regarding childcare, school districts are in a great position to deliver that service, but childcare fees can’t sustain the operational and capital maintenance costs and school districts can’t redirect K-12 school operation funds for childcare.

“I added the point that the Central Okanagan has a waitlist of over 8,500 children,” Tiede said.

On staffing and retention, there was discussion about the rules for certification and how they must change, and for the province to consider a student loan forgiveness program.

Concerning deferred school maintenance costs, the current backlog buildup of delayed maintenance requirements is unsustainable and raises the potential for unsafe learning environments for teachers and students.

“We are now forced to defer over $9 million this year, growing to nearly $70 million in the next five years,” Tiede added.

Tiede said she added a fourth talking point for the MLAs regarding escalating student enrolment, what she called a giant problem that not all school districts face to the extent currently being experienced in the Central Okanagan.

Tiede said while her school district is grateful for the support already given to build new schools, add on to existing schools and reduce portables, the reality is Central Okanagan public schools are operating at 107 per cent capacity while enrolment is growing annually at the elementary and middle school levels.

“It is unsustainable for both the operational costs and supporting student learning,” Tiede said.

Tiede said this year saw an increased headcount of nearly 700 new students, including more than 470 newcomers to Canada.

“Our staff are doing an incredible job welcoming newcomers, but we need space to support this rapid growth,” she said.

“We need a continued focus on fast-tracking modular additions and new schools because we are one of the fastest-growing communities in the country.”

Barry Gerding

About the Author: Barry Gerding

Senior regional reporter for Black Press Media in the Okanagan. I have been a journalist in the B.C. community newspaper field for 37 years...
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