Parents are brainstorming ideas to solve the budget problem of paying for universal noon hour supervision in the Regina Public School division, but many are looking at the bigger problem of funding.
The school board held a public information session with School Community Councils on Monday night to discuss the possibility of having parents pay a fee for their children to stay for lunch.
Mike Walter is the deputy director of school services for the division and he started the meeting by explaining that the division needs to come up with $6 million in the budget to maintain class sizes. He explained that the provincial government is now basing school funding on enrolment from previous years. The noon-hour supervision program is one of several budget items being considered to save money.
Jennifer Love Green came to the meeting to represent her School Community Council (SCC) as a parent of two boys in elementary school.
“The parents resoundingly want to maintain a universal program where students have access and that costs money,” she said. “If the money isn’t coming from the government, then the parents are paying for it in some way, shape or form.”
Love Green pointed out that she will have to pay because she works out of the home, but some families can’t afford to take on that extra cost.
She said her bigger concern is with the motivation behind the change with the government no longer funding schools based on current enrolment.
“Right now I see it as a short-term solution to a long-term problem unless the funding formulas are changed and actual enrolments are adjusted and commitments to adjusting those formulas are made and not dependent on the price of oil,” Love Green said.
“Because these are our children and they’re our future leaders.”
Parents and principals led group discussions and presented several ideas to the board. Prior to the 2008-09 school year, SCCs often handled noon hour supervision programs on a volunteer basis. But representatives from SCCs seemed to come to a consensus that running it themselves is no longer a feasible solution because it’s hard to find volunteers.
Greta Lange also raised questions about the bigger picture, saying it’s important to note that schools are not being funded for current enrolment levels.
“There’s a lot of discussion and it throws people into a direction thinking that we have to solve this problem, that this is the problem. But it’s not necessarily the actual issue,” Lange commented.
She said she doesn’t think it’s really feasible to ask parents to pay for noon-hour supervision, especially when so many kids are bused to school now.
Some ideas generated by the group discussion included charging a base fee for everyone or to subsidize some families who can’t afford to pay through fundraising or sponsorship.
With her first child in Grade 1, Chelsey Sweeney was surprised to hear that parents used to have to pay for kids to stay at school over lunch.
“I heard a lot of people talking about advocacy and I really think that is the long-term solution,” she said. “I think ultimately we will need to work together and work with our government and with the school board to make enough of a business case and a community case to make real change.”
Sweeney calls it a band-aid solution to ask parents to pay to keep their kids in school at lunch and she’s concerned for families who can’t afford it.