Laurier school board candidates prepared for budget cuts

Parents of students of the Sir Wilfrid Laurier School Board worry the provincial government’s austerity measures will have an impact on the services offered at the school after the board's budget was cut by $2.3 million.

2 contenders for chairperson promise student services will be maintained

Jennifer Maccarone (left) and Steve Bletas (right) are running for SWLSB chair in Nov. 2 school board elections. (CBC)

Sonia Ponte is thrilled with the education her children get at John F. Kennedy Elementary School — for now.

But Ponte worries the provincial government’s austerity measures will have an impact on the services offered at the school.

"My son has an extra teacher in his class that helps kids who fall behind. If they do cut, my son will not have the help he needs," Ponte said.

This is the reason Jennifer Maccarone decided to run for Sir Wilfrid Laurier School Board (SWLSB) chair. Both of her children are on the autism spectrum and have special needs.

"In the past four years, we've been dealt $5.5 million in budget [cuts] and $2.3 million in the last year alone. That has a direct impact on our special needs community," Maccarone explained.

Maccarone’s ticket, EducACTION, pledged to bolster revenue generating activities — like the school board’s international student program — in order to maintain services to students. The exchange program brings in $1.7 million annually for the school board.

Maccarone’s opponent, Steve Bletas, promised to cut at the administrative level.

Sonia Ponte is worried about what school budget cuts will mean for her son. (CBC)
"We cannot keep hiring at the board level. We have to give whatever we have to the kids first," he said.

Bletas said if elected he will look toward the community for donations. "Be it banks, be it professionals where they have money that they want to contribute toward education," he said.

Bletas and Maccarone also vowed to lobby the government to implement a single school tax rate, regardless of whether children go to a French or English school.

Keeping kids in school a priority

Maccarone said her team will work on creating new programs to keep students enrolled in the board’s 26 elementary schools and 10 high schools.

"We do see an exodus of students [who] leave our public schools to go to private or alternative schools," Maccarone said. 

"We want to offer those same programs here in order to keep our gifted and talented students."

Bletas said he would create more vocational training programs such as nursing, cooking and tourism.

"If we can give programs that kids who fall through the cracks can take," Bletas said.

"That would bring children to be able to continue [their education] and graduate properly."

Bletas says controversy behind him

Bletas served as the SWLSB chairman for 14 years before stepping down in 2012.

At the time, he was criticized for overstepping his responsibilities by directly interfering in school affairs.

He said those days are behind him.

"These last two-and-a-half years have made me aware of listening a little more [and] working with people a little more," Bletas said.