Province delays promised education projects
Politics: Tories axe full-time kindergarten which was to start this fall
By: Darlene Casten
| Posted: Wednesday, Jan 30, 2013 07:23 pm
Government promises for new schools, renovations to existing facilities and full-day kindergarten in the Alberta are among the projects being delayed as a result of falling oil revenues.
On Jan. 22 Education Minister Jeff Johnson told members of parent councils across the province the provincial government’s finances were bleak and a promised 50 new schools and 70 school modernizations will not be completed within the four-year time frame set out by Premier Alison Redford. Johnson made the comments during a teleconference call with parent council members.
“We are still very committed to getting these capital projects done,” Johnson said. “They may take us a year or two longer.”
He said the Province is not looking to cut back on the number of schools on the list to be built or fixed up, but hinted at cuts to education funding to school boards.
“We are going to have to tighten our belts on the operating side, but we are committed to the capital,” he said.
Johnson listed Okotoks among a handful of communities under extreme pressure for new schools.
“We’ve got a very long list and we are looking at it closely,” Johnson said of the requests for schools across the province.
Catholic schools in Okotoks, particularly elementary schools, are either close to capacity, or over capacity and Christ the Redeemer Catholic Schools (CRCS) is hoping to get approval for a Kindergarten to Grade 9 facility at a site they have in Heritage Heights as soon as possible.
“We need it really bad,” said CRCS associate superintendent Gary Chiste. “We are going to be struggling for space in Okotoks.”
He said elementary schools, as well as the junior high school and high school in Okotoks are full.
Chiste said he believes they will be one of the first divisions to receive funding for a new school.
“We are optimistic and we know they are aware of our situation,” he said.
Once a Kindergarten to Grade 9 school is built a high school is the division’s next priority in Okotoks, he said.
The Foothills School Division is looking to renovate their 30-year-old Okotoks high school.
Assistant superintendent Drew Chipman said the most pressing need at Foothills Composite High School is a new roof.
“It leaks from time to time and we patch it, but it does need a new roof,” he said.
The estimated price tag for a new roof is $1 million, Chipman said.
The school also needs a new mechanical system to better exchange air in and out of the building and control the temperature. Under a proposed $25 million renovation the school’s shop spaces and other classrooms would also receive a facelift.
Chipman said the school is not equipped to deal with all the technological demands that have increased significantly since the school was built.
Full day Kindergarten stalled
Johnson also said full-day Kindergarten is off the table for this fall. Former education minister Thomas Lukaszuk said full-day Kindergarten would be funded this year.
Providing full-day Kindergarten is expected to cost $200 million a year.
Johnson said the government needs more time to decide how they will offer full day Kindergarten.
“We want to roll it out,” Johnson said. “We are looking at making a comprehensive plan now.”
Okotoks mother of three Shawna Zylstra said she thinks full day Kindergarten is a good idea, on a part-time basis.
Zylstra’s youngest child now attends Kindergarten at the Montessori School, but said if nearby Big Rock School offered full-day Kindergarten every other day she would have enrolled him there.
She said she believes her two older children would have transitioned better to Grade 1 if they had a full day of classes in Kindergarten.
It’s also hard to accomplish anything in the couple of hours in the morning or afternoon for Kindergarten students, she added.
“It disrupts the day,” Zylstra said. “Not only for parents. I just feel like they just get to school and are getting into it and then they leave. It’s like a whirlwind now.”
Foothills School Division superintendent Denise Rose said they offer full-day part-time Kindergarten at some of their schools and said it is a popular option. However, she said parents’ preferences when it comes to Kindergarten are varied.
“It’s a very personal decision,” Rose said.
Some parents are not in favour of having their four and five-year-olds in school all day in their first year, she said.
The school division hadn’t been preparing for funding for full-day Kindergarten, Rose said, and was instead waiting to see if it was funded in the upcoming provincial budget.
She said even if full day Kindergarten was funded, there are some schools that may not have the capacity to accommodate new classes.
“In Okotoks it would be hard to do a full day every day Kindergarten because of a lack of space,” she said.