Need for schools in Okanagan is 'dire,' says MLA

Where do we put students?

Last week, I started feeling the back-to-school energy.

As a mom of three kids and two step kids, my last week of August and first week of September has always been about school supplies, fall clothes and the first-day outfit for them.

They are older now, and only three are still in university, but you can still feel the excitement and nerves as you watch the kids in the mall, or the negotiation of school supplies in Walmart. It is a thrilling time.

One of the things I like best about being an MLA is education is part of the provincial mandate. I have a passion for teaching, having been raised by a teacher and being sister of a school principal and educator.

I grew up knowing the importance of, and feeling the weight of, what teachers empathically bring home from their students.

It has been a difficult few years for our educators, our school leaders and our students. COVID was hard—changing guidelines, vicious debates, PPE, changes in learning delivery modes from in-person to video and then back to in-person again, all the while trying to keep everyone safe.

But while the restrictions of COVID are lifting, now we have inflationary pressures that are pressing on our schools’ budgets. Many of our school boards and executives had to make difficult spending cuts to make sure they balanced their budgets going into the new school year.

Last week the provincial government announced a funding top-up for the Central Okanagan School District and many others across B.C. That was a welcome relief to districts trying to figure out how to provide bus service, heat schools, pay for portables and provide a great education experience for our children, all with inflation soaring.

But is it enough?

Our population has skyrocketed, with younger families moving to the Okanagan for our incredible lifestyle, jobs and amenities.

According to Central Okanagan School District superintendent Kevin Kaardal, our schools are at 106% of capacity, despite opening two additional elementary schools.

Simply put, we need more schools.

The government decides who gets new schools and how many and it promised it would decrease the use of portables for schools.It even went so far as to promise there wouldn’t be any more for the city of Surrey. In our school district, we have more portables per capita than Surrey.

Having portables puts additional financial pressure on the district’s operating funds and leads to further reduction in money that should be going to learning and the education of our kids.

The situation in the Okanagan is dire and we need to have more schools started immediately. This isn’t about the quality of the education, it’s about being able to provide school spaces for the children in our communities.

My question for you this week is:

Should government tie education funding to inflation yearly?

I love hearing from you. Please email me at [email protected] or call my office at 250-712-3620.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Renee Merrifield is the BC United MLA for Kelowna - Mission and the Opposition critic for Environment and Climate Change, as well as Gender, Equity and Inclusion.  She currently serves on the Select Standing Committee for Finance as well.

A long-time resident of Kelowna, Renee started, and continues to lead, many businesses from construction and development to technology. Renee is a compassionate individual who cares about others in the community, believes in giving back and helping those in need through service.

She values your feedback and conversation, and can be reached at [email protected] or 250.712.3620

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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