Regina school for at-risk kids has funding cut in Sask. budget

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WATCH: Cornwall Alternative School has been working with at-risk youth in Regina for 45 years, but that may be coming to an end as the school had it's funding from the provincial government eliminated in the Saskatchewan budget. – Mar 25, 2019

Cornwall Alternative School is currently home to 40 at-risk students between grades 7 and 10. Students are referred to the Regina-based school because issues ranging from behavioural challenges, gangs, addiction and/or attendance are keeping them from succeeding in the mainstream system.

The goal is to provide specialty programming at Cornwall to help these students get back into the mainstream school system for Grade 11 and 12.

The school has been part of the Regina education system for over 40 years.

A bulk of the school’s annual operating budget, $761,000 annually for the past four years, came from the provincial government. That ended with the March 20 provincial budget, according to Cornwall’s board chair David Halverson.

“I was surprised because there had been no prior consultation. As I said, I thought we were there to talk about an increase in funding not being cut off,” Halverson said Monday.

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The cost of running the school effectively was growing, according to Halverson. He said an extra $50,000 would have given the school enough resources to meet student needs.

READ MORE: Education sector says Sask. budget falls short of financial pressures

Now, the board will be meeting Monday evening to try and determine what the institution’s future will be.

Halverson said they have a standing $125,000 donation from the United Way as well as other donations and fundraising brings in about $30,000 annually.

It costs around $1 million annually to run the school.

Education Minister Gordon Wyant said money is not why the funding is being discontinued. The decision was made because ministry officials told Wyant that students have been having a difficult time making the transition from Cornwall to mainstream schools.

“We believe the services the kids need in those grades can be properly provided in the school divisions. We’ve heard that there’s a significant transition challenge when kids come out of Grade 10, transitioning into Grade 11,” Wyant said.

When students transition from Cornwall to a mainstream school, they have an outreach worker that helps them for as long as necessary. Halverson said there are currently five students in the outreach program.

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Wyant said a similar transition took place in Saskatoon when Connections at the Radius Community Centre was closed in 2008. According to a government spokesperson, Connections was receiving fewer and fewer referrals. By the time it was closed, it had three to five students at a given time.

Cornwall Alternative School is currently at it’s capacity of 40 students, with five on outreach.

“Our experience in Saskatoon has been that there’s a seamless transition of these children from an alternative school into the general population of the school system. Our experience shows it will work, and we’re confident it will work in this case,” Wyant said.

When asked about attendance issues with kids in Cornwall, Wyant said children making the transition will be closely monitored.

READ MORE: No funding increase in provincial budget for Saskatchewan’s universities

Education critic Carla Beck called on Wyant to reverse the decision, pointing to a three-year agreement that would have seen the school receive funding for the 2019-20 school year.

“To renege, with one year left in the contract, a successful program that has been providing education for students for 45 years, it simply defies belief,” Beck said.

According to information posted on Cornwall Alternative School’s website, attendance is at 81 per cent, 86 per cent of students saw their marks improve in the 2017-18 school year and 95 per cent said they would not be in school if it wasn’t for Cornwall.

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“These are kids that, by their own account, simply wouldn’t be in school to make that transition if it weren’t for Cornwall Alternative School,” Beck said.

Halverson said he wants to meet with Wyant and other members of the provincial cabinet to better make a case for continuing the funding. Wyant said he would meet with Halverson, and would talk to his cabinet colleagues.

With the future of the school in question, Halverson has a bleak outlook for the Cornwall kids, and future students.

“They wouldn’t be in school. They’d be on welfare for the rest of their lives and a lot of them would be in crime. Some of them would be dead. We’ve had students thank our staff for being there because otherwise they were going to kill themselves,” he said.