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Education minister says school board can't cut preschool for special needs kids
The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, April 6, 2017 12:31PM CST
The Regina public school board is being told to study its budget again because the province won't approve a plan to cut preschool programs for kids with special needs.
Education Minister Don Morgan says the preschool programs for deaf and autistic children must be kept, but that doesn't mean more money is coming from the province.
"We will work with them to see whether there's funding there," Morgan said Thursday at the legislature in Regina.
"Now, I don't want to sound like we want to meddle in what they do or sound like we're arrogant saying, 'you have to suck it up.' We want to work with them and we will look at options with them."
Neither Regina Public Schools nor the board chairwoman wanted to comment Thursday.
The school board said Wednesday it was cutting the programs because the province reduced its funding by 2.5 per cent or $5.7 million.
It said with projected enrolment growth and the opening of three new schools, the effect of the funding cut and increased costs leaves a $9.5 million hole.
The board said preschool for three- and four-year-olds in programs that are not required by the Ministry of Education will be phased out by 2018-19, with no new registrations accepted for this fall.
It also said kindergarten classes will go from half a day, five days a week to full days on alternating days and about 1,100 children are also losing school bus service because the board is changing the distance that students have to live to qualify for transportation.
Regina Public Schools director of education Greg Enion said that was just the first round of cuts and more are coming because there's still a shortfall of about $5 million to $6 million.
Morgan said the government feels "the small decrease in funding to division operation can be managed by the divisions."
"I'm not committing to having more money, but I am committing to making sure those programs are there," he said.
New Democrat MLA Carla Beck, a former trustee with Regina Public Schools, says Morgan needs to sit down with school boards to understand the decisions they face.
"And if he has an idea of where they should cut, he should come out with that," said Beck. "These are not the decisions that the boards are taking lightly."
The cuts were part of the Saskatchewan government budget tabled at the end of March.
The government has a $1.3-billion deficit and the budget outlines a plan to get it down to $685 million in the year ahead.
Seven regional library systems are also losing more than half their funding and funding is being completely eliminated for libraries in Regina and Saskatoon.
The libraries said Tuesday the cuts mean the end of Saskatchewan-wide library system, which allowed people to access material from any branch in the province regardless of where they live.
Morgan has since said he wants the system kept because it works well and that libraries should find a way to keep it within their budget.