Community hubs not included in funding for new Saint John, N.B. schools

Click to play video: 'Saint John learns funding from province for new schools doesn’t include community hubs'
Saint John learns funding from province for new schools doesn’t include community hubs
WATCH: For years, Saint John has advocated for a new school featuring community resources to help in high poverty neighbourhoods. Last December, New Brunswick announced it would in fact build two new schools. But as Robert Lothian reports, the city has learned funding for the community hub portion isn’t included. – Apr 4, 2023

If the City of Saint John wants two new schools to include additional community hubs, it may have to look outside the provincial government for funding.

On Monday evening, Saint John council received an update on two schools set to be constructed in the coming years.

In December, the provincial government approved a new K-8 school in the South End, replacing St. John the Baptist King Edward schools, and a new K-5 North End school, consolidating Hazen White – St. Francis and Centennial schools.

While neither school will open until 2026, in order to progress through the design phase council was required to choose a model.

To maintain the current community hub model, which includes 110 early learning centre spaces and 30 spots in an after-school program, an additional $9 million would be needed for both schools.

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David Dobbelsteyn, the Director of Growth and Community Planning for the city, told council the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development will not foot the bill for additional community components.

However, given the high rates of poverty impacting the north and south ends, council has longed for expanded community hubs.

Dobbelsteyn noted the growth model for the hub would increase the early childhood learning spaces to 226 and mean a total of 90 after-school spots between both schools, but at a cost of $14 million.

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”The province is now turning to the communities and saying we need $14 million to make that vision happen. A vision they have taunted budget after budget for three years,” Coun. David Hickey remarked.

According to a city report, in the neighbourhoods where these new schools will be built, one in two kids live in poverty. For comparison, provincially, three in 20 kids live in poverty, the report states.

As part of the community hub model, the Early Education Centre would include an early learning centre, after-school programming, parent resources and integrated supports such as employment training and counselling.

In the end, council unanimously voted on the growth model, and for the mayor to send a letter to the premier requesting the province cover the construction of the hubs.

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While many councillors are pleased by the concept of two new schools for the region, some felt the province still has a financial role to play in funding the community hubs.

“We got to convince the other members, MLAs that it’s needed in these two areas in Saint John, and it’s going to be a political decision, whether we build just a school or we build more than the school,” said Coun. Gerry Lowe.

“We need a hub, we need something for these areas where the priority kids are.”

Coun. Brent Harris asked about what contingency plans the city would need to institute.

“What happens when you get a curveball and there’s two departments that say, you know ‘sorry, it’s just not in the budget,'” Harris asked.

According to Brent McGovern, the city’s chief administrative officer, money doesn’t need to be allocated this fiscal year, so provincial funding could be designated for the hubs in future budgets.

“As long as a decision is made in short order to support the growth model, they can move forward with design and funding can be allocated by the province,” McGovern responded.

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As part of the decision to approve the growth model, the mayor will send a letter to the premier requesting the province finance and build these hubs.

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