Funding woes killing school
Cuts 'spell disaster' for disabled students

by Jennifer Pritchett
Northern News Services

NNSL (NOV 22/96) - Without Project Change, 19-year-old Maria Mantla wouldn't have any hope of attending college.

"I would probably just stay at home and try to get a part-time job," she said.

She is one of 20 students with disabilities from across the NWT that will lose their training after the Project Change Training Centre closes March 31.

More than 300 students have gone through the program since 1985.

Cuts to government funding are forcing the Project Change Training Centre to close its doors after 11 years of operation. The program provides education and training for those students whose disabilities prevent them from attending regular schools.

"We haven't given up hope, but the reality at the moment is that we will have to close," said Beulah Phillpot, founder of Project Change and its present treasurer.

The cuts are particularly difficult to take after the purchase of a building for the program in 1995 that has left them with expensive overhead costs.

But Phillpot said the funding loss is the result of the territorial government's restructuring of how funds are allocated to communities.

The group received $70,000 in joint funding from the territorial and federal governments for 1996-97, but it runs out Dec. 31.

Funding from the Department of Social Services has been reduced by half to $19,000 for 1996-97. The Department of Education's Literacy Fund provides Project Change with $60,000 over a four-year period that ends in two years.

Phillpot said the program can't survive on the Literacy and Social Services funding alone.

Board members of Project Change are looking for an agency to take over funding for the service, but so far haven't found the means to stay open.

"I'm particularly concerned that there won't be a program for these students," she said. "I would be delighted if another agency took it over." She said that it would be a backward step if the community didn't have a program for youth with disabilities at a time when they need it most.

Chris Horne, a teacher at the training centre for two years, will lose his job Dec. 31 when the program is cut in half -- 10 students and one of two teachers will be axed from the program. The remainder of Project Change will fold in March.

Horne said the cuts spell disaster for the students.

"I'll find another job, but these students are going to give up because they have nowhere else to go," he said. "This is not like a school -- it's more like a family. It's teaching them to live in society."

He said it's hard to imagine these students in the school system.

"We have students 16 and 17 (years old) that can't distinguish numbers," he said. "So you can imagine putting them in a regular school. They're going to be gone out the back door."

"Now they're not just hanging out and hating themselves," he added.