Time is money to school district 

Board considers ways to cut 20 days from school year and save $250,000

District parents are being asked to fill out a survey to help the school board decide if they should move ahead and cut 20 days from the school calendar to save money.

"We are encouraging people to let us know what they really think," said school board superintendent Dr. Linda Rossler.

"There are advantages and disadvantages, we know that. We are looking for the best of the worst."

Every parent and all staff in the Howe Sound district got a letter from the board and a survey this week.

Rossler said the board hopes to save at least $250,000 by cutting the 20 days from the school year. The savings would come from reduced bussing, reduced clerical staff salaries, and reduced use of heat and light.

This, along with recent changes which include cutting school programs, cutting back on school librarians and other measures, will allow the board to balance its budget.

But some are questioning the cost.

"It looks like a very large change for a small amount of money," said Howe Sound Teachers’ Association president Marjorie Reimer referring to the cut back in school days.

"It is like cutting September out of the school year.

"Teachers are asking a lot of questions and seeking to find answers. A change of this size needs to really be worth it."

Reimer said some teachers are already taking flak for the board’s proposal as some in the community are suggesting that teachers just want more time off work for the same pay.

"But it just isn’t teachers looking for 20 more days off," said Reimer.

Under the board’s proposal the school day would be extended by 16 minutes in kindergarten, by 32 minutes in Grades 1-7, and by 34 minutes in Grades 8-12.

This extra instructional time would make up for the 20 days cut from the calendar.

Teachers would be instructing children for the same overall amount of time and therefore their salaries would not be affected.

However Canadian Union of Pubic Employee workers in the school system would earn less as they would work less.

"…Cutting instructional days for our children is not the way to deal with the problems we are facing," said CUPE local 779 president Linda Cloutier.

"This isn’t about what is best for our kids, it’s about what’s best for the provincial government.

"It also means an extra month of lost wages for support staff."

School Boards all over the province are struggling to come to grips with tight budgets. Many have implemented, or are looking at, reduced school weeks.

Boundary school district moved to a four-day school week last year. Preliminary findings suggest the cut back in days has not affected school performance.

The district has shaved almost half of its deficit and absenteeism is down 48 per cent. Grade 12 government exams results have improved – most subjects were up more than seven per cent compared to 2002 and more students were on the honour roll at Grand Forks Secondary.

Demand for childcare actually dropped by 32 per cent as 1,000 high school students were turned loose to babysit.

But at a recent Myrtle Philip elementary school Parent Advisory Council meeting many parents were concerned about how kids would be cared for when both parents work.

It is a concern Reimer of the Teachers’ Association is hearing too.

"The families on the edge, the single moms the double working parents, will find this a challenge," she said.

As part of the search for input by the Howe Sound School Board parents will be asked to choose between three different scenarios to cut the 20 days. They are:

• Create a second four-day long weekend in almost every month.

• Distribute 10 days around existing holidays and use 10 days to create an additional long weekend per month.

• Distribute all 20 days around existing holidays.

The survey results must be into the school board by May 16. The board will consider them and meet on May 28.

The board will then consider what the majority of stakeholders want and send out a second local calendar that reflects these changes. Stakeholders will receive another month’s notice prior to a public board meeting on the revised local school calendar.

Meanwhile the board has opted to keep Blackwater Creek elementary school open.

Birth statistics show that it is likely the local communities will have enough children to run a full class there for the next several years.

The education ministry is also considering increasing the funding per student to $10,000 for children who attend rural schools.

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