Residents angry and shocked after trustees vote to close Osoyoos Secondary School

By on April 6, 2016
_DSC6925

Brenda Dorosz, chair of Save Our Schools, gets up to speak after the vote. She says parents are already moving forward with plans for an independent school in the building of Osoyoos Secondary School, which trustees voted 4-3 to close. (Richard McGuire photo)

Mere seconds after four trustees – none who live in Osoyoos – voted to close Osoyoos Secondary School (OSS) effective June 30 on Wednesday night, numerous parents screamed they will be working together to own and operate an independent school in this community and it will open by the fall.

Following an emotionally-charged 90-minute meeting where you could literally feel the tension in the Osoyoos Secondary School Community Theatre, four members of the seven-member board of trustees voted to close Osoyoos Secondary School.

Trustees Rob Zandee (Oliver) Debbie Marten (Keremeos), Rachel Allenbrand (Oliver) and board vice-chair Sam Hancheroff (Okanagan Falls) voted in favour of a motion to close OSS, effective June 30.

Trustees June Harrington (Osoyoos), Myrna Coates (Keremeos) and board chair Marieze Tarr (Osoyoos) voted against the motion.

A tearful Coates had earlier introduced a motion to have the board vote in favour of granting a one-year delay on closing either school in Osoyoos.

However, her motion failed when Harrington was the only trustee to support it.

Several people in the audience found Tarr’s vote to be disingenuous based on her comments Monday night and many other comments she has made since the board announced in mid-January they would look at the option of closing either Osoyoos Secondary School and moving 250 students to Southern Okanagan Secondary School (SOSS) in Oliver or closing Osoyoos Elementary School and moving more than 300 students to the high school and busing students from Grade 10 to 12 to SOSS.

“Her actions don’t speak as loud as her words,” said Larry Miller, who has lived his entire life in Osoyoos and has been an outspoken advocate in his attempt to keep both schools in Osoyoos open. “Over the last three months, I’ve never heard her say a single word that she was strongly in favour of keeping our schools open in Osoyoos.

“Her vote tonight to not close the school was not genuine in any way, shape or form, but simply because she thought she could save face when it was clear the majority had already voted in favour of closing the school.”

Brenda Dorosz, the chair of the Save our School committee that was formed after it was announced trustees would be looking at closing a school in Osoyoos, yelled out this community would be opening its own independent school seconds after the final vote was tallied.

Dorosz stepped up the microphone a couple of minutes later and angrily denounced the board’s decision.

“You were entrusted to do the right thing and you failed,” she said to thunderous applause. “We will have an independent school in this town.”

She already has started the paperwork to apply for an independent school and talked to hundreds of local parents who are willing to do whatever it takes to open one as quickly as possible, said Dorosz.

“I told you … and I warned you,” said Dorosz to the board of trustees. “You will pay. You are going to need to close all your schools now.”

Town councillor Mike Campol, who was also visibly shaken by the decision, said he’s convinced the four trustees who voted in favour of closing OSS had their minds made up long ago.

“This past two months has been the most disingenuous exercise that I have ever seen in my entire life,” he said.

The parents, educators and students in this community had made it very clear that they would do whatever it takes to find the cost savings needed to keep all schools in the district open and opting to close OSS with so many options available is unfathomable, said Campol.

“The parents showed courage … the teachers showed courage … the students showed courage,” said Campol. “What we haven’t seen here is courage by you.”

Over the last 10 weeks, the residents of Osoyoos have banded together and show tremendous courage and passion and come up with many great options to cut costs and keep all schools open, but it’s his opinion the trustees already had their minds made up, said Campol.

“We have come together and we have fought,” he said.

The parents in this community won’t simply lie down and accept this decision and an independent school will become a reality, said Campol.

“This is the wrong decision,” he said.

Mayor Sue McKortoff said she was shocked by the decision to close OSS.

The right decision would have been to delay any decision on school closures for one year and look at all options to save costs and keep all school in the district open now and in the future, said McKortoff.

“Four of the trustees didn’t see the logic of giving us a year to find solutions and that’s really unfortunate,” she said.

She and members of town council are going to contact lawyers to see if anything can be done to reverse this decision and will also be contacting Minister of Education Mike Bernier to voice their concerns, said McKortoff.

“Town council and the members of this community are not to take this decision lying down,” she said. “This isn’t over by a long shot. Believe me, we’re not done.”

Miller said he’s convinced that the majority of trustees had made up their mind long ago that OSS would close and the last two months of tireless efforts by Osoyoos and area residents was basically a “giant waste of time.”

“For the first few weeks, the board talked about nothing else but finances and money,” said Miller. “Then when the members of this community called their bluff and came up with an endless list of good ideas, they switched their tune and started talking about the quality of education, but that doesn’t hold water because there wasn’t a single parent in Osoyoos who has complained about the quality of education at our high school.

“The reality is some of these trustees had their minds made up and nothing was going to sway them and that’s very sad.”

Miller said he has lived in this town for more than 60 years and he’s never seen an issue bring the community together like this one.

“I’ve never seen the pride of the people of Osoyoos come out like it has these past two months,” he said. “We’ve become strong and we’ve become committed. I’ve never been more proud to call Osoyoos home.”

Miller agreed the majority of parents in this town won’t accept this decision and will work together to form an independent school.

“The people in this town aren’t going to stand for sending their kids out of town to get an education,” he said. “It isn’t going to happen.”

KEITH LACEY

Osoyoos Times

Okanagan Falls Trustee Sam Hancheroff blamed provincial funding, but he argued that the school closure issue came up in 2010 and not enough was done by the community since to address the original problems, which have worsened. He voted against the motion to delay the decision for a year and for the motion to close Osoyoos Secondary School. Chair Marieze Tarr said parents didn't want the uncertainly of a delay, so she voted against it. After speaking on both sides of the issue, in the end she voted against the school closure. (Richard McGuire photo)

Okanagan Falls Trustee Sam Hancheroff blamed provincial funding, but he argued that the school closure issue came up in 2010 and not enough was done by the community since to address the original problems, which have worsened. He voted against the motion to delay the decision for a year and for the motion to close Osoyoos Secondary School. Chair Marieze Tarr said parents didn’t want the uncertainly of a delay, so she voted against it. After speaking on both sides of the issue, in the end she voted against the school closure. (Richard McGuire photo)

Trustee Myrna Coates, of Keremeos, tried to pass a motion to delay the school closure for a year, but when it came to vote, only Trustee June Harrington, of Osoyoos, supported it. She then voted with the two Osoyoos trustees against closure, but the remaining four MPs voted to close Osoyoos Secondary School. (Richard McGuire photo)

Trustee Myrna Coates, of Keremeos, tried to pass a motion to delay the school closure for a year, but when it came to vote, only Trustee June Harrington, of Osoyoos, supported it. She then voted with the two Osoyoos trustees against closure, but the remaining four trustees voted to close Osoyoos Secondary School. (Richard McGuire photo)

Michelle Nehring, president of the OSS Parent Advisory Council, gives a last plea to trustees to keep her school open. Minutes later, they voted to close it. (Richard McGuire photo)

Michelle Nehring, president of the OSS Parent Advisory Council, gives a last plea to trustees to keep her school open. Minutes later, they voted to close it. (Richard McGuire photo)

Members of the Osoyoos community wait in nervous anticipation for the meeting to start. They packed the Osoyoos Community Theatre at OSS and many waited outside. (Richard McGuire photo)

Members of the Osoyoos community wait in nervous anticipation for the meeting to start. They packed the Osoyoos Community Theatre at OSS and many waited outside. (Richard McGuire photo)

Members of the Osoyoos community wait in nervous anticipation for the meeting to start. They packed the Osoyoos Community Theatre at OSS and many waited outside. (Richard McGuire photo)

Members of the Osoyoos community wait in nervous anticipation for the meeting to start. They packed the Osoyoos Community Theatre at OSS and many waited outside. (Richard McGuire photo)

Members of the Osoyoos community wait in nervous anticipation for the meeting to start. They packed the Osoyoos Community Theatre at OSS and many waited outside. (Richard McGuire photo)

Members of the Osoyoos community wait in nervous anticipation for the meeting to start. They packed the Osoyoos Community Theatre at OSS and many waited outside. (Richard McGuire photo)

Realtor Eileen McGinn tells the trustees that people have been moving to Osoyoos from the Lower Mainland, including young families, because of high real estate prices on the coast. (Richard McGuire photo)

Realtor Eileen McGinn tells the trustees that people have been moving to Osoyoos from the Lower Mainland, including young families, because of high real estate prices on the coast. (Richard McGuire photo)

People began lining up outside the Osoyoos Community Theatre nearly two hours before the meeting to be assured of getting a seat. Many people didn't make it into the theatre. (Richard McGuire photo)

People began lining up outside the Osoyoos Community Theatre nearly two hours before the meeting to be assured of getting a seat. Many people didn’t make it into the theatre. (Richard McGuire photo)

J.F. Launier (right) made a stop at Tim Hortons on the way to the school board meeting to bring snacks for those who turned out to support Osoyoos schools. (Richard McGuire photo)

J.F. Launier (right) made a stop at Tim Hortons on the way to the school board meeting to bring snacks for those who turned out to support Osoyoos schools. (Richard McGuire photo)

Some people came prepared to wait outside the Osoyoos Community Theatre. (Richard McGuire photo)

Some people came prepared to wait outside the Osoyoos Community Theatre. (Richard McGuire photo)

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *