Parents, school board call on N.W.T. gov't to foot total junior kindergarten bill

Parents and the Yellowknife Catholic board are calling on the N.W.T. government to fully fund the territory's junior kindergarten program — or else the board will have to cut other areas of programming for students from kindergarten to Grade 12, they say.

Yellowknife Catholic Schools officials says cuts to other programming for K-12 students will be necessary

Lori Macmillan-Gallant, the chair of the Yellowknife Catholic school board’s parental advisory committee, circulated a petition Monday night calling on the territorial government to fully fund the territory's junior kindergarten program. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

Parents and the Yellowknife Catholic school board are calling on the N.W.T. government to fully fund the territory's rollout of junior kindergarten program in Yellowknife — or else the board will have to cut other areas of programming for students from kindergarten to Grade 12, they say.

The board of Yellowknife Catholic Schools (YCS) held a public meeting for parents in Yellowknife Monday night.

The territorial government has not yet presented the board with a draft budget for the 2017-2018 school year.

But Miles Welsh, the chair of the board, said the board may have to cut staff by 3.6 per cent if the government continues to ask school boards to make up an approximate $2-million shortfall in the junior kindergarten budget (through a reallocation of funds they receive from the government).

"We can't accept these kinds of solutions," said Welsh of cuts. 

JK to pose extra costs 

There are three Catholic schools in Yellowknife: Weledeh Catholic School, St. Joseph School, and St. Patrick High School, with a combined 1,330 students currently enrolled.

The school board is already planning cuts to its operations, slashing staff at the board's central administrative office to "the minimum," said superintendent Claudia Parker.  

But introducing junior kindergarten will bring new costs for the board, said Welsh. New buses with special seating and an adult supervisor mandated by insurance rules will cost an estimated $150,000 a year.

The board is expecting to launch five junior kindergarten classes this fall: three at St. Joseph School and two at Weledeh, with an anticipated 20 students in each class supervised by two adults. The board is aiming for staff trained in early childhood development.

Petition circulated 

Lori Macmillan-Gallant, the chair of the board's parental advisory committee, circulated a petition addressed to regular MLAs and asking the territorial government to reconsider its position on junior kindergarten funding.

About 50 people attended Monday night's meeting that St. Joseph School. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

"We need to really stand up and make sure that cuts don't affect our children for the next however many years this is going to happen," she said.  

"The needs of our students have increasingly gone up and up and up, special needs children considerably."

Both Kieron Testart, the MLA for Kam Lake, and Julie Green, the MLA for Yellowknife Centre, were in the audience Monday night. Green has criticized the territorial government for placing a higher priority on big-ticket projects like the Tlicho all-season road than on areas like education.

Inclusive schooling cut expected 

Though they will add to each school's student load, junior kindergarten students won't be factored into how much money the government offers boards for inclusive schooling — the practice of teaching children in an age group together, in one group, regardless of students' varied learning abilities, using classroom assistants to help with children with special needs.

The board is already expecting another year of reduced funding for inclusive schooling, as a result of government-issued changes to the mandate for inclusive schooling, said trustee Amy Kennedy.

"Our concern is... we'll see a decrease in the number of classroom assistants, a decrease of people working one-on-one with students who have specific or higher needs," she said.

"It doesn't make a lot of sense to us."

Last year, funding for inclusive schooling was cut by $245,000, the biggest drop in funding yet for the program, said Parker.

JK aftercare program planned

One parent wondered what is left to cut.

"They cut the administration here," said Marcy MacDougall, whose children attend St. Joseph, where Monday night`s meeting took place.

"I'm wondering what is left to cut,” said parent Marcy MacDougall. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

"Some of the vice-principals had to go on reduced hours. The library hours have been cut. The librarian position was cut. These are supports in the school that are necessary to have."

Parker said the board is expecting to receive its draft budget for 2017-2018 from the government next month. After that, it will be another month before the board decides where to make cuts.

An aftercare service for junior kindergarten is planned for this fall, added Parker, but she said the user-pay service will need to break even to be sustainable.

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Guy Quenneville

Reporter at CBC Saskatoon

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