West Kelowna  

Rapid growth straining Central Okanagan school system

Schools bursting at seams

Nearly one-in-four classrooms next school year at Mount Boucherie Secondary School in West Kelowna will be of the portable variety.

The Central Okanagan School District is expecting to have to purchase three new portable classrooms next year across the region, and move two others, to deal with the rapid population growth of Canada's fastest growing region.

Mount Boucherie Secondary will add one more portable, bringing the school to a total of 16 portable classrooms for the 2023-24 school year, according to a report going to trustees next week.

The school has 53 fixed classrooms and an operating capacity of 1,325 students, but is projected to become the most populous school in the district this year with 1,823 students.

Other schools adding new portable classrooms next year include Chief Tomat Elementary and Shannon Lake Elementary in West Kelowna. Portables will also be moved from Dorothea Walker and Anne McClymont elementary schools to Bellevue Creek and Watson Road elementary schools in Kelowna.

The portable classroom purchases and moves are expected to cost the school district about $1.29 million in the 2023/2024 budget.

And while capital projects like new schools are funded by the provincial government, costs associated with the purchase of portable classrooms—a necessity due to overcrowding—are paid for out of the school district’s operating budget that funds in-classroom learning.

Across the Central Okanagan, the school district is operating at 106% capacity. By 2024, it is expected that 33 of 47 of the schools in the district will be operating over capacity.

The district has a long wish list of requests into the provincial government for additional schools, expansions or replacements. The district, for example, has been lobbying the government for a replacement for Rutland Middle School for over 15 years.

Since 2018, the district has added 33 portables to its inventory and has funded $7.67 million to purchase and move portables. Other growing school districts, like Surrey, have been pleading with the province for help with these costs.

The district’s forced buying spree of portable classrooms may be coming to an end later this decade. Staff predict that by 2027 when the new George Pringle Secondary School is complete, the district will have a surplus of portable classrooms.

A 2023/2024 budget document going before the board’s finance committee next week shows the district will have to hire 66 new full-time-equivalent staff to accommodate growth. That includes 21 teaching staff, 29 education assistants, 11 operations and clerical staff and three administrators.

An "unprecedented increase in refugee and immigrant students and families" means the district's English as a second language supports will need to increase.

The school district has managed to balance the books without making any cuts to programs thanks to new funding from the province for school food programs.

Both the proposed budget and portable classroom plan will go before trustees at committee next week before going to a full public board meeting on April 26.

More West Kelowna News