Regina schools end preschool programs due to provincial budget cuts

Public schools in Regina are closing the book on preschool programs because of provincial budget cuts. vgajic/Getty Images

Public schools in Regina are closing the book on three preschool programs and making major changes due to provincial budget cuts.

The board says the cuts are necessary because the province cut 2.5 per cent, or $5.7 million, in funding.

But it says with projected enrolment growth and the opening of three new schools, the impact of the funding cut and increased costs leaves a $9.5 million hole.

“Let me be clear, these changes have been necessitated by a 2017/2018 provincial budget,” public school board chair Katherine Gagne said.

The Regina public school board says 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.

This includes Discovery Preschools, which place children with autism, intellectual, or physical disabilities in classes with other three and four-year-olds who do not have the same needs.

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Jeanelle Mandes said her daughter Sharlize went to Discovery Preschool, and greatly benefited from the program.

“She was non-verbal when she was diagnosed [with autism]. She was given picture exchange communication system, which is a method of her communicating through pictures,” Mandes explained.

“She wouldn’t have made that transition if it wasn’t for the DPS program.”

Jeanelle Mandes shows a photo of herself and daughter, Sharlize. Adrian Raaber/Global News

Sharlize is now in Grade Two, and Mandes does not believe she would be as successful if it weren’t for Discovery Preschool.

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“We probably would have been struggling with a lot with her communicating, as well as understanding shapes and colours, understanding the alphabet,” she said.

Parents who’s children do not have special needs also believe the program is beneficial for their kids. Charlene Patton enrolled her kids in Discovery Preschool.

“I think it’s important for all kids to learn from each other and accept each other. That was a big part of that program, so it’s sad to have to see that go,” Patton said.

Other cuts include Communications Preschool, which offers specialized funding for deaf and hard of hearing students, and tuition for the SCEP Centre. This third party provider offers preschool for children who’ve suffered from severe trauma and neglect.

This phase-out will save $1.29 million.

Kindergarten classes will also go from half days, five days a week to full days on alternating days. This move is to remove on mid-day busing costs, saving $446,000 annually.

About 1,100 children will also lose school bus service because transportation services will only be available for students who live more than a kilometre from their school. The board estimates this will save $1.35 million.

“We have had to make some difficult decisions so that we can continue to focus our resources and our attention on students in classrooms and student achievement,” said Gagne.

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“That’s the situation we’re in. We have a $9.5 million shortfall. We’re not funded for these programs, so we’re in a situation where we can only offer what we’re funded for,” Regina Public School Board director Greg Enion said.

Education Minister Don Morgan said he wants to have further discussions with the board about ways to find savings.

“We want to see whether we want to ask them to use some reserves. They created the [Communication Preschool] program. It’s not our program. So we want to ask them what’s happening and see if it’s something we can do something with,” Morgan said.

Enion said the division has reserves, but after the province changed their accounting method school boards need to get provincial approval to use reserves.

The public school board estimates they still have $5-$6 million remaining in their shortfall. Further saving measures will be announced as they finalize their budget for the 2017/18 school year.

Enion added that they are hoping to reduce and not have to cut services. If staffing reductions are necessary Enion wants to see it done through attrition.

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With files from The Canadian Press

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