Mother 'outraged and upset' after school Indigenous retention workers eliminated

Mother Rachelle Tanton says she's not happy that Saskatoon's Catholic school division has ended its Indigenous student retention worker program.

Saskatoon Catholic school division eliminated 12 retention workers to deal with $9.7M shortfall

Rachelle Tanton says her four children have benefited greatly from an Aboriginal student-retention worker program. She's unhappy that the Saskatoon Catholic school board is ending the program. (CBC)

Mother Rachelle Tanton says she's not happy that Saskatoon's Catholic school division has ended its Indigenous student-retention worker program.

On Tuesday, the 12 employees in the program received layoff notices. The separate school board says the decision was made to deal with a $9.7-million budget shortfall generated after the provincial budget.

Tanton said her four children have benefited greatly from the program, and says it's a huge loss.

"We all love the [woman] that was responsible for this program," said Tanton. "I'm just outraged and upset that our Aboriginal youth are going to suffer from this loss."

The retention workers perform a wide variety of tasks, working on everything from counselling to nutrition, in an attempt to keep Indigenous children active in the school system.

"Knowing that they had a place to go to and a person to speak to, to make decisions for their future, there was a personal relationship bonded there," Tanton said. "Not even during school, but after school. These people were available to them all the time."

The low graduation rate for Indigenous students has been an issue for years. Right now, the on-time provincial graduation rate for Indigenous students sits at 41.8 per cent, roughly half the graduation rate for non-Indigenous students.

Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools said the decision was very difficult to make, but the division was forced to cut programs to deal with budget issues.

"The work that the people did that were part of that category, the work they did with the students and the families that they worked with, was very important," said board chair Diane Boyko. "But we're serving more students with less money."

Boyko said the retention work will have to be picked up by other staff, including the division's Aboriginal student achievement co-ordinators.

"All of the supports we put in place, they were there for a reason," she said. "And the statistics show that we were having improvements, and it will be a challenge, but it will be a challenge that we're up to."

Meanwhile, Tanton said she hopes the provincial government steps in with more money to save the program.

"People need to come forward and start expressing their concerns, and express them to the school boards, to the government, that we need these supports," she said.

"They shouldn't be cutting out certain programs that are going to enhance young people's futures."

With files from Charles Hamilton