Keeping up with the kids
$22 million to be spent on NWT schools in 1998

by Jeff Colbourne
Northern News Services

NNSL (Feb 16/98) - The Territorial government will spend approximately $22 million on creating bigger and better schools.

"That's either building new classrooms and or renovating older facilities," said Mark Cleveland, deputy minister of education, last week.

The department's capital budget has been reduced by a third over the last few years, from about $33 million to $22 million.

It works with the divisional boards to determine those priorities and needs.

For 1998, some 25 NWT communities have been given priority status in the budget's main estimates, which is still facing debate by the legislative assembly.

"We track, very closely, enrolments in schools to measure when they are going to reach capacity and then we plan our construction so that when they reach capacity, new classrooms come on," said Cleveland.

Cleveland said he realizes there are schools out there now feeling the pinch, but he feels confident that the department comes through when space or renovations are needed.

"Pretty well all schools in that situation -- closing in on capacity -- have renovations and/or additions going in, so that by the time they do reach 100 per cent occupancy, there are in fact additional spaces," he said.

Awareness campaign

Cleveland's optimistic view isn't shared throughout the education system.

The NWT Teachers' Association feels so strongly about the threat posed to the quality of education by budget cuts and overcrowding that they bought a full-page advertisement for an open letter to Education Minister Charles Dent in last week's xxxNews/North.

"Education has been consistently cut for the last six years and we've had the number of students increase, but nothing else is," said Thomas. "We don't have the resources we need and the teachers we need to deal with all the diversities in the classroom," she added.

Thomas said she doesn't know when conditions will improve.

"What I do know is our children deserve the best," she said. "We are facing difficult financial times but if we don't prepare our students we'll be spending more money down the line," said Thomas.

"I know that everybody needs money but I hear every day our children are our future. Do we invest in it or do we not?"