After much deliberation, a dozen speakers and two different petitions with nearly 800 signatures combined, the Central Okanagan School Board has decided to go back to the drawing board in its attempts to change the catchment areas for the three elementary schools in Lake Country.
Close to 100 people attended the regular meeting of the school board on Wednesday night in Kelowna as the board of trustees heard presentations from parents representing the Oyama Traditional School as well as a Lake Country subdivision as the issue of how to deal with overcrowding at Davidson Road Elementary in Lake Country took centre stage.
Of the three elementary schools in Lake Country, only Davidson Road is over-capacity and the school district spent the last year holding public meetings at each of the schools to hear from parents.
In a tense meeting that featured applause as well as cat-calls from the gallery, David Grabavac, a parent from the Lakes subdivision, accused the school board of collusion in its decision-making process, prompting board chair Moyra Baxter to fire back.
“I don’t think we need to use words like that when we are talking about something like this,” she said. “It’s a difficult decision and we are trying to do what’s best for the children. There has been a lot of disrespect going on between everyone. These are your neighbors you are talking about. It’s time we grew up. We keep talking about what’s best for the children and I don’t think any of us have behaved in an adult way in all of this.”
The school board heard pleas from representatives of the Oyama Traditional School, asking that new catchment areas help boost the student population in Oyama long-term to avoid any potential closure of the school as they presented 470 signatures against proposed new boundaries. Parents from the Lakes subdivision came forward with a petition with over 300 names asking that the proposal be passed, keeping their subdivision in the Davidson Road catchment area.
Other parents also spoke, bringing forward alternate plans and options for the trustees to consider. A representative of the Central Okanagan Parent Advisory Council called for cooler heads to prevail.
“I’d like to remind everyone that we need to think about children first, not dividing neighborhoods against neighborhoods,” said Vivian Evans, COPAC president. “Let’s make sure the population is distributed so we keep all schools viable and we allow our students to have a good education. I believe every school in our district is providing a good education. I plead with the board to do the best for all students, not just one particular group.”
In speaking to a staff recommendation to change the catchments, trustee Julia Fraser said it wasn’t good enough and the issue needed to be looked at again.
“Even if this recommendation passes, it is a band-aid solution at best and the board will still need to cap Davidson Road which defeats the purpose of the recommendation in the very first place,” she said.
In the end trustees voted 4-2 to defeat the motion and send the catchment review back to a board committee for further discussion, with the Lake Country trustee abstaining from the vote after she was accused of a conflict of interest.
“I believe the recommendation is a piece-meal approach,” said Baxter. “To me we need to get all of you in the room together and put everything on the table. We need to broaden the public consultation to make sure we do it properly.”
The catchments in Lake Country will not change for the 2015-16 school session. Registration will take place Monday morning and some students in the Davidson Road catchment will have to attend school at one of the other schools. It’s not known when the catchment review will continue.