Kitchener-Waterloo

Public school board pegs first-semester COVID costs at $8 million, asks province for more money

The Waterloo Region District School Board says safely reopening schools is expected to cost nearly $8 million dollars for the first three months of the year alone.

Masks, cleaning, retrofitting will be costly but necessary, says board chair

Board chair Jayne Herring says public schools will need extra funding to offset the costs of COVID-19 come the fall. (Waterloo Region District School Board/Twitter)

The Waterloo Region District School Board says safely reopening schools is expected to cost nearly $8 million dollars for the first three months of the school year alone.

Board chair Jayne Herring is asking Education Minister Stephen Lecce for an urgent funding boost, to avoid running a deficit or making cuts to other areas of the budget.

"We are going to provide a safe return to school, and we are hoping we can receive additional funds to help us achieve that," Herring told CBC News.

The expected costs include:

  • $3.12 million to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) for students and staff.
  • $2 million in staffing.
  • $1 million in cleaning costs.
  • $0.6 million for transportation costs.

The tentative plan for reopening schools, Herring said, involves giving medical grade masks to students and staff. Students with particular medical needs may also require additional PPE, she said.

The board doesn't feel it's fair to expect students and staff to come up with their own PPE, she said.

"We would be worried about those students and staff who would not be able to afford those masks," said Herring. "If that's the direction we're receiving — that these masks need to be worn — then we need to help with providing those [masks]."

Fewer students per bus

Schools and facilities will need frequent, thorough cleaning, Herring said in her letter. Some spaces will need new signage or retrofitting to ensure physical distancing, she said.

As for transportation, Herring said the board plans to limit students to 24 per school bus, which is about one third of the usual capacity. The buses themselves will also require more frequent cleaning, she said.  

"These are all the necessary but costly steps we must take at the advice of our public health partners, in order to protect our students and staff from the risks associated with COVID-19," she said.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Education said the ministry is working with health officials to plan for the upcoming school year. That plan, which will include "additional supports and resources" for boards, is expected next week.

Herring said she hopes the funding news will be good. She said the board is prepared to reopen safely no matter what.

"We will ensure the safety of staff and students, whatever that costs," she said.

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