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Catholic board angered by funding cuts
Trustees say funding per student will decrease as student-teacher ratio rises to pay for junior kindergarten

Candace Thomson
Northern News Services
Published Friday, February 21, 2014

Catholic school trustees condemned the territorial government's assessment of the funding they will lose to pay for territory-wide junior kindergarten Wednesday night, saying cuts will be far more severe than the government is letting on.

"The government have publicly stated here, in the (legislative assembly), on television and on the radio that we will see a reduction of 1.2 percent for the introduction of junior kindergarten. I consider that a gross misrepresentation of facts," said Yellowknife Catholic school board chair Simon Taylor.

"In fact, in three years time we'll have less funding than we currently have for 13 grades of students and we will be educating 14 grades. The actual cut ... is closer to eight per cent."

GNWT funding for schools in the territory is determined by a formula based on the number of pupils per teacher. Schools have different pupil-per-teacher ratio formulas depending where they are in the territory. At Yellowknife Catholic Schools the ratio is 15.5 to 1. Announced funding cuts by the GNWT over the next three years will see the ratio increase beyond the legislated maximum of 16 to 1 - meaning Yellowknife schools will be getting less money per student. Yellowknife schools will experience an additional hit with the loss of revenue from pre-kindergarten programs, which parents currently pay for. Free junior kindergarten for four years olds will represent about a $500,000 loss, said Mike Huvenaars, assistant superintendent of business for Yellowknife Catholic Schools.

Huvenaars said one grade of students makes up eight per cent of the district's $26-million-plus budget - not the 1.2 percent reported in the legislative assembly earlier this month by Jackson Lafferty, minister of Education, Culture and Employment.

"The way you get to eight per cent is you say right now one grade is approximately eight per cent of our money, and when we're educating 14 grades with the funding of 13, that's eight per cent we're not getting," Huvenaars told Yellowknifer.

Huvenaars said he cannot estimate exactly how much funding the district will lose per student as he hasn't seen how much the GNWT will change the per student ratio. What he can predict is the district will be getting less money per student as the ratio rises from around 13 students per teacher to 16.

For the GNWT to pay for the implementation of junior kindergarten across the territory, Yellowknife Catholic Schools will experience cuts in funding of $434,000 in 2014/2015 and $264,000 in 2015/2016. Some $484,000 will return to the budget for the 2016/2017 school year to pay for the 11 students Yellowknife Catholic Schools is expecting in junior kindergarten, according to Huvenaars.

This leaves the school district with an accumulated loss of $214,000, which doesn't account for the increased class size or loss of funding from parents.

Trustees spoke angrily about the cuts during Wednesday's school board meeting.

"I think we have to be very clearly on the record of this not being acceptable," said trustee John Dalton.

"We're running up against a wall here, so I think we need a push from the parents no matter what we do," said vice-chair Miles Welsh.

Not all trustees thought anything could be done, however.

"I think we've done our best. I don't have any delusions that we can really affect a whole lot of change in time for (territorial budget to be voted on)," said trustee Erin Currie.

"I think this is going to go forward and I think our best recourse is to address it after the fact so that it doesn't continue to happen."

A motion calling on the school district to "advocate" against the funding changes was approved unanimously. It calls on trustees to form a plan by this weekend to protest the changes with help from parents.

Rita Mueller, assistant deputy minister of education and culture, said the pupil-to-teacher rate is expected to go up from an average 13 to 1 to 14.5 to 1 across the territory over the next three years. This will lead to a relative decrease in the amount of funding received per student for Yellowknife Education District No. 1 and Yellowknife Catholic Schools.

Both Yk1, which has a pupil-to-teacher ratio of 15 to 1, and the Catholic school district are expected to exceed the legislated maximum of 16 to 1 as a result of the influx of junior kindergarten students in 2016.

On Thursday in the legislative assembly, Lafferty committed to providing a subsidy to any school board which is expected to exceed the the 16 to 1 ratio.

"It is true that Yellowknife schools will have a greater challenge than other schools in implementing the junior kindergarten program," he said.

- with files from Cody Punter

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