The provincial government 2022-23 budget offers no immediate solutions addressing the need for new schools in the Central Okanagan School District.
Finance minister Selena Robinson said, $3 billion has been set aside for school capital projects, but how that money is allocated is determined by the Ministry of Education working with funding priorities set by individual school districts.
“There are three major causes behind school funding. Schools that need to be replaced, new schools that need to be built and our seismic upgrade program,” Robinson said.
“Our funding in this budget reflects our continued effort to recognize those needs.”
Robinson made the comments during an exclusive 45-minute roundtable media session on the budget with Black Press Media reporters on Wednesday.
Central Okanagan Public Schools is anxiously awaiting a funding announcement for a new secondary school in West Kelowna, which was approved in principle by the Ministry of Education last spring, while the desire to replace the aging Rutland Middle School has also been a top capital priority for the last two decades.
Robinson maintained capital spending for education remains a challenge as school districts attempt to anticipate decreases and increases in student enrolment.
“In the last five or six years we have seen growth in student enrolment in our schools and we work quickly as we can to budget for that but you can well appreciate it takes five or six years to identify where the greatest need is for a new school and then to plan and build it,” she said.
Asked if the government could create funding to access in advance of enrolment changes rather than reacting after the fact, Robinson replied: “It was not that long ago we were seeing decreases in enrolment…but trying to anticipate enrolment changes is always I think going to be a challenge.”
In other issues addressed during the Black Press media roundtable, Robinson cited the province’s commitment to invest $164 million in complex care housing and related supports for those facing mental health and addiction challenges.
Four such complexes already exist in the Lower Mainland, and Robinson said the rollout and location on the projected 20 new sites forecast will be led by Mental Health and Addictions Minister Sheila Malcolmson.
Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran, speaking on behalf of the BC Urban Mayors group, applauded the funding with the hope of learning more soon about where those sites will be located, the services to be made available at each site and how quickly those sites will be operational.
“There will be 20 more sites rolling out over the next few years so the minister will be working with service providers to identify where those will be going,” she said.
Robinson also addressed part of the government’s response to environmental changes with the year-round expansion of the BC Wildfire Service to help mitigate forest fire conditions exasperated by climate change and also a creation of a new land, water and resource stewardship ministry, an off-shoot of the current forestry ministry.
She said the intent of the new ministry is to funnel more attention and resources on water and land resource issues, and as part of the government’s overall reconciliation focus, to give First Nations a larger voice in the decision-making process.
“It will allow us to be efficient in the land and water use planning that needs to happen. This new ministry will be tasked with that objective,” she said.
Robinson added the new budget allocated $2 billion as a pandemic contingency should another COVID-19 wave hit in the next year, with $2 billion earmarked if needed for the 2023-24 budget.
“We thought last fall we were through the toughest part of COVID and that turned out not to be the case when Omicron hit,” she said.
“We need to be ready for whatever the pandemic might throw at us in the year ahead.”
Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.