Junior Kindergarten in the Fort La Bosse School Division was one of several programs hit hard by funding constraints in the budget for the coming school year.
The school division has been warning staff for some time that this could happen and last Monday night it became a reality. Trustees were forced to make some difficult cuts - ones that will affect students and teachers - in order to live within strict directives mandated by the provincial Department of Education.
Junior Kindergarten is a special program that prepares four year olds for entry into the school system. It serves about 30 children annually across four schools in the division: Elkhorn, Oak Lake, Boundary Lane and Plainview Schools. Because it isn’t a required program, it was vulnerable to having its funding cut.
But it was not something the trustees wanted to do. Board chair Garry Draper says studies have shown that pre-school programming has proven value to children. So even though it’s gone from the budget, he still hopes a means can be found to keep it going.
“The Junior Kindergarten program has a significant impact on the students, preparing them for entering Kindergarten and Grade 1. Oak Lake (Community School) has been a wonderful project and we’ve seen the success there.”
The board needed to find $170,000 to shave from 2019-20 expenditures in order to deliver a balanced budget. The Junior Kindergarten program will save them $55,000.
Another $55,000 will come from a 50 per cent staffing reduction to the Alternative Education program.
HIGH SCHOOLS HIT TOO
Alternative Education operates at the high school level in Virden, Reston and Elkhorn. It’s used by about 60-70 students each school year, students for whom regular classes and schedules don’t work. A qualified teacher supports them in a dedicated classroom as they work on the credits they need to graduate.
Superintendent Barry Pitz says, “If we didn’t have this program, I don’t know how we’d support these kids to get them to the podium.”
Regardless, the board cut the program down from one full-time teacher to a half-time position.
Pitz says the program may still be able to continue but each school will have to find the resources on its own to make up for the lost teacher hours.
The board of trustees also made numerous smaller cuts to items like student services, professional development, technology, and travel expenses to balance the budget.
Unless the Education Department changes its policies, the FLBSD administrators believe there will be deeper pain to come.
Pitz said, “All things being equal next year, I think it will have a much more profound impact. Next year, every school in the division will be impacted in staffing, that’s my prediction.”
Draper agrees. “Last year we were able to stay out of the classrooms, this year we’re just gently scraping the top of it. If this continues another year, there will have to be deeper cuts in the classrooms.”
On Mon. March 11, Fort La Bosse trustees passed a balanced budget that stayed within the Education Department’s two per cent cap on spending increases and the property tax levy.