June 27, 2017 8:04 pm
Updated: June 27, 2017 8:35 pm

Parents concerned over phasing out of Regina Catholic Schools’ Sunshine Program

In the wake of funding cuts from the province -- the Regina Catholic School Division is phasing out their Sunshine Program: a learning environment for three to five year olds with intensive needs. Marney Blunt has more on how this affects families and the children who need it most.

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Parents in the Regina Catholic School Division are voicing concerns about the school board’s decision to phase out the Sunshine Program.

The program offers a learning environment for three to five-year-olds with intensive needs.

This upcoming school year, the division will be reducing the program before phasing it out. Currently, the program runs out of five centres, serving 80 children. This school year, it will be reduced to two centres, serving 32 children.

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The decision to phase out the program stems from a $1.5 million deficit in the Regina Catholic School Division’s 2017-18 budget, as result of funding cuts from the provincial government.

“Really it’s twofold,” said Domenic Scuglia, the Director of Education for the Regina Catholic School Division. “One, it’s an unfunded program, so we don’t receive any grant monies for the program. And the second reason is, like every other school division in the province, we had very challenging decisions to make around budgeting and this was one of the places we looked to find an efficiency to balance our budget.”

In the wake of the provincial government’s $22 million in funding cutbacks, the Regina Catholic School Division will also be phasing out two pre-kindergarten programs and reducing seven positions, including one superintendent position. The funding cutbacks mean there will be approximately $471 less per student.

Allyson Cozine Minaker was planning on sending her three-year-old son to the program. He was diagnosed with autism four months ago.

“I don’t even know where to begin. In my own humble opinion, I feel the decision was a little short-sighted,” said Cozine Minaker.

Cozine Minaker says she’s now left with a lot of questions.

“He’s going to enter a regular kindergarten classroom in a few years, and what will that look like? What will it look like for pre-kindergarten, when he’s four next year, what will that look like?”

Miranda Klinger understands their frustration. She has sent three of her four children through the program, and says they have benefited from it immensely.

“It truly changed our lives,” said Klinger. “For Kendall, it really expanded her horizons. It opened up so many dreams for us that we weren’t really sure would be possible for her.”

Klinger worries for the families that won’t have the same opportunities her children had.

“It breaks my heart a little for those families because we’ve seen with Kendall how much she’s grown and how much Sunshine really brought to our families,” she added.

“They became part of our family, and it’s not going to be there anymore. I don’t know what it’s going to look like for other families that are like ours.”

The division says they are trying to work with the province on the issue.

“It’s devastating for those families,” said Scuglia. “They are some of our most vulnerable children, we understand that, and we’re working closely with the Ministry as we speak to see if there are funds available where we can go back and reconsider opening up spots for September 2018 for some of those vulnerable children,” Scuglia said.

“The last thing we want to do is close for some of those vulnerable children. The last thing we want to do is close doors, (we want to) provide good, fresh starts for some of our most vulnerable children.”

But in the meantime, some families are left with uncertainty.

Cozine Minaker says her son still receives great support from the Autism Centre, but it’s not the same hands-on classroom experience he would get in the Sunshine Program.

“It was just a hope, it was hope,” said Cozine Minaker. “And I have no idea what it would have been like in the programs, because we didn’t ever get it.”

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