Administrative office for the Central Okanagan Public Schools. (File photo)

Central Okanagan School District falls short on funding for universal washrooms

Deferred maintenance projects have reached $10 million in cost

Ongoing deferred school maintenance projects is drawing concern from Central Okanagan Board of Education trustees.

While the board adopted a facilities grant plan for 2022-23 through 2027-28, trustees are concerned the level of funding from the Ministry of Education for that specific need is falling about $10 million short of expectations.

Trustee Chantelle Desrosiers, chair of the planning and facilities committee, said the funding commitment is $3.8 million for this year, and an equal amount projected for 2023-24.

Desrosiers noted there has not been a significant increase in the grant for the past 17 years, as maintenance work called for simply doesn’t get done.

She said the maintenance work tends to centre around mechanical systems, roofing replacements and other facility upgrades.

“It is work that we should be doing if following best practices for maintaining our schools but we are unable to do the full scope of what we need done due to a lack of funding,” added school district secretary-treasurer Ryan Stierman.

Another fallout from the funding shortfall, Desrosiers noted, was the school district’s ability to address the need for universal washrooms in more schools for the LGBT2Q+ students.

Two transgender at École Kelowna Senior Secondary students made presentations to the committee, citing the access to such washrooms as being an important recognition of acceptance in schools.

“Trans people need to feel some iota of belonging, of acceptance, ” wrote one student on a submission to the committee.

“School is the only other safe space for socialization and basically just existing for a LOT of trans people with terrible home live….It’s not just a place of education. It’s a key part of students’ lives and we need it to be more inclusive because we spend half our days here, and for some of us it’s the only bearable part of our day.”

Desrosiers noted the students also acknowledged how universal washrooms can be comforting for students with medical conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, endometriosis and diabetes, offering more privacy than a public washroom.

“These students were very compelling and forthright about their experiences as transgender and Grade 12 graduating students. I am very grateful to them for speaking about the needs of future students and not something for themselves,” she said.

Desrosiers said universal oriented washroom renovations have taken place at some schools, as the district is not ignoring the issue.

“But I am feeling like we are just picking at it and it will take time…as universal washrooms are not cheap,” she acknowledged.

“You listen to students who are very passionate about this and you really want to support them. We would like to have all this done yesterday but that is not possible.”

The board also adopted a resolution to advocate further for increases to the facilities grant provided by the province.

The trustees will send a letter to the ministry of education and provide a copy to all school boards across the province to solicit further support.

The letter will also be copied to local MLAs and other school district partner groups wanting to express their support.