Few answers on junior kindergartenParents air concerns over cuts to fund program at town hall meetings
Northern News Services
Friday, January 27, 2017
Parents looking for information about junior kindergarten may have walked away with more questions than answers after town hall meetings hosted by two of Yellowknife's school boards this week.
Parent Marcy MacDougall holds Dougall Lau-a at the Yellowknife Catholic Schools public meeting on Monday night, where she said she is already feeling the pressure from cuts to school programs. - Kirsten Fenn/NNSL photos
Yellowknife Catholic Schools (YCS) hosted a public information session for parents on Monday night at St. Joseph School, followed by Yellowknife Education District No. 1 on Tuesday night at Mildred Hall.
With the release of school budgets still weeks away, some of the details remain murky on where the additional $2 million needed to fund the free, play-based program for four-year-olds will come from.
"We've always, as a board, as a district, supported the idea of junior kindergarten," YCS board chair Miles Welsh told parents on Monday night. "The only problem is ... the funding."
In December, The Department of Education, Culture and Employment told school boards it would provide $2 million toward the $5.1-million pricetag of junior kindergarten. School boards were expected to come up with the remaining $3.1 million. YCS superintendent Claudia Parker told Yellowknifer the department has since promised to return some funding to the school boards, leaving approximately $2 million for them to scrape together.
Finding that money could come at the expense of other school programming at the Catholic board.
"We will have to draw from our K-12 programming, our admin staff, our admin budgets," Welsh told parents, adding the $2-million shortfall represents a 3.6 per cent staff cut at the K-12 level. "We'll have to draw from everywhere else in the district to support junior kindergarten."
The Catholic board expects to have five junior kindergarten classes next year, with two early-childhood workers for each 20-student class.
Parker said the board is already planning to make cuts at its central services department, which includes senior administration and programming co-ordinators. Speech and language services will likely not be offered in classrooms next year either, she said.
Parent Marcy MacDougall told board members she feels she has already been affected by cuts.
Her son is in kindergarten but doesn't have a phys-ed teacher, she said. Her daughter was told she needs speech therapy this year but that it can't be provided by the school.
"I want people to make sure they understand that it's very important for junior kindergarten to be fully funded, because I don't know what can be cut next," MacDougall said.
"I hope people will go and write letters to their MLAs and let them know how serious this is."
While parents at the public school board had some concerns about the long-term impact of junior kindergarten on programming for other students, Yellowknife Education District No. 1 (Yk1)'s finance chair said the board is in a "good financial situation" for next year as it approaches junior kindergarten.
"We have a surplus of approximately four per cent," Terry Brooks told parents during Tuesday's town hall meeting.
Tram Do, Yk1 director of corporate services, added that amounts to about $1.3 million.
The school board expects to staff nine junior kindergarten classes next year, with two staff members for each. Class size will be a maximum of 20 students, like YCS.
Three classes will be at J.H. Sissons School, three at N.J. Macpherson, with others at Mildred Hall and Range Lake North School, said Yk1 superintendent Metro Huculak.
Conversation at the Yk1 meeting quickly turned to concern about a new pilot program to reduce students' classroom time by 100 hours at schools across the NWT.
The Northwest Territories Teachers' Association and Department of Education, Culture and Employment announced the program on Monday.
Parents questioned whether the change would lead to more homework, whether the NWT will still be able to teach the full curriculum and what the success rates are for other provinces with fewer class hours.
One mother said she is worried the change could now lead to higher child-care costs.
Parents said they want to know an exact date when the board will inform parents what programs could be affected by junior kindergarten and the reduction in classroom hours.
Huculak urged parents that the school board did not want to confuse parents and would have answers soon.
"We will certainly keep you informed," Huculak said.