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GNWT halts junior kindergarten

Implementation becomes voluntary in communities where it already exists as premier commits to no further rollout until eight-month review complete

Randi Beers
Northern News Services
Updated Monday, November 3, 2014

The territorial government will wait for findings from an eight-month review before it decides how to proceed with junior kindergarten in regional centres, Premier Bob McLeod announced Oct. 30.

When the GNWT announced junior kindergarten earlier this year, the plan was to fund it with $7.4 million reallocated from school board budgets over three years. The controversial funding model will not change, according to McLeod.

In his announcement, the premier said any of the 23 communities currently offering junior kindergarten has the option to abandon the program and that no other communities will be expected to start implementation until the review is complete.

Denise Kurszewski, superintendent of the Beaufort Delta Education Council, told News/North she hasn't yet heard whether any of the schools in her region want to drop the program, but she is planning a video conference next week to discuss the announcement.

"There's been a bit of stress in some of our schools," she said.

"We have some large classes with kindergarten and junior kindergarten combined ... there was a lack of human resource education staff in some classrooms."

Kurszewski said Inuvik's only elementary school was also bracing itself for an influx of 120 kindergarten and junior kindergarten students next fall.

"That was a big concern for the school," she said.

Back at the legislative assembly, Hay River South MLA Jane Groenewegen thanked cabinet for the concession and asked whether any of the communities currently offering junior kindergarten will receive support to quit, if they need.

"I could see it being difficult for the school board ... to say, 'Hey, you know what, we really can't do this. We really don't have the resources, it's affecting our teaching complement,' whatever reason, and dialing that back," she said.

"It might be problematic for them to communicate, you know, 'Come and get your kids now, we've decided we're not going to do this.'"

Education, Culture and Employment (ECE) Minister Jackson Lafferty responded by saying his department has a steering committee currently offering support to the 23 communities with junior kindergarten, and it will continue to do so.

The debate continued in legislative assembly on Oct. 31, as Weledeh MLA Bob Bromley stood up to ask the premier to address concerns he's heard from teachers and parents where junior kindergarten exists. He said resources are being stretched and four-year-olds are running around schools without supervision.

Bromley asked the premier to commit to investigating these allegations and reporting back to the assembly by the last day of the current session, which is Nov. 6.

McLeod answered that the review process will include one-on-one meetings between senior management and individual MLAs to hear more details about concerns like these. He added the Department of Education, Culture and Employment will work with individual district authorities that choose to opt out this year.

Bromley seemed unsatisfied with this response.

"Because I think this is so important, I'm going to repeat (myself)," said Bromley.

"These are serious complaints right now that unsupervised three and four-year-olds are in our schools. Will the premier ensure there is a process in place to deal with these complaints effectively?"

McLeod responded that he does take these complaints seriously, and said he would investigate immediately.

Two Yellowknife MLAs - Frame Lake MLA Wendy Bisaro and Range Lake MLA Daryl Dolynny - criticized Thursday's announcement, saying the premier didn't address the most contentious aspect of junior kindergarten roll out: who is going to pay for it?

"We know the roll out in 23 communities was done with an ill-conceived funding model, cleverly funded through school boards and district authorities," said Dolynny.

"Why was the funding component purposefully referred to as a no change approach?"

McLeod didn't offer a rationale, but acknowledged Yellowknife Education District No. 1 will lose $649,000 and Yellowknife Catholic Schools will lose $799,000 over the next two fiscal years. He added Yk1 had accumulated a surplus of $2.5 million and the Catholic school board had accumulated surpluses of $1.14 million.

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