The Lethbridge School Division has released its preliminary budget for the 2020-21 school year and its roster will be slimmer after dozens of jobs are cut.
In terms of full-time teaching positions, 3.8 are being eliminated. Support staff are being reduced by almost 41 positions, of which nearly 31 will be comprised of educational assistants.
The division says teaching cuts will be done through attrition, however support staff and early education assistants will primarily be reduced through layoffs.
The division is pointing to funding reductions in Program Unit Funding (PUF) as a big reason for the cuts.
“It’s complex because PUF students used to be three-, four-, five-year-olds and kindergartens and some of the five-year-olds were kindergarten,” said Supt. Cheryl Gilmore.
“Now it doesn’t count kindergarten students. It’s because the funding framework is different; it’s hard to do apples to apples,” she added.
The new PUF model only offers school-based therapy programs and multidisciplinary supports to pre-kindergarten students with different challenges and disabilities. Although, kindergarten students will still receive early education programming.
“Will it look the same as the program unit funding model for kindergarten children? It won’t look the same,” Gilmore said.
“The children won’t be without education assistance in the classroom, but they won’t be as individualized as what as been the case in the past.”
The education minister’s office provided Global News a statement:
“Program unit funding continues to provide support to pre-kindergarten students under the new funding model, and school divisions will continue to receive funding for each kindergarten child with severe disabilities or severe language delays through the new specialized learning support grant which ensures every student receives a consistent level of support throughout their K-12 education.
“Additionally, the Lethbridge School Division is seeing their overall government funding increase to $111,462,596 for the 2020-21 school year. Every school authority continues to receive the funding they require to support their students.”
Many of the students who benefit from PUF are on the autism spectrum and the Chinook Autism Society says group care cannot help meet the unique challenges each child faces.
“When you’ve met one individual with autism that’s exactly that, you’ve met one individual with autism,” said Brandon Rudics, the vice president of the Chinook Autism Society.
“Every single person is different from whether they have [problems with] sensory processing or motor skills, every single person with autism has completely different strengths and weaknesses.”
Rudics said his son has autism and the consistent individual support he received through the educational assistants and support staff – that were support through PUF – really helped him progress with his speaking skills and ability to express himself with words.
Rudics adds that one of the ways he judges the government is based on how they treat the most vulnerable, which he says is why he’s not satisfied nor happy with the new PUF model due to it resulting in the elimination of dozens of EA jobs in Lethbridge alone.