LETHBRIDGE: The head of Lethbridge's biggest school board is defending his game plan in the face of staffing cuts, while parents prepare to air their concerns.
District 51 superintendent Barry Litun says dwindling provincial funding means the board must cut 60 staff positions, but they're taking whatever measures they can to soften the impact on students.
Meanwhile, parents are mobilizing to get more information at a public meeting Wednesday.
"Every parent that has a child in district 51 needs to come to this meeting to voice their concerns," says Melissa Cardinal-Gish, a local pre-school teacher who has two children in the public school system.
Her eight-year-old daughter is autistic and requires the help of a one-on-one aide who can keep her focused in class. Cardinal-Gish was told last week that her school will be cutting one full-time teaching position and eight assistant teacher positions. The changes mean her daughter will no longer have the assistance of her one-on-one aide, leaving one assistant to help six special needs children in her class.
"It's a safety issue. She's a flight risk, and will be more likely to leave the classroom," says Cardinal-Gish, who's now considering moving her daughter to a new school, putting in her own money to pay an aide's salary, or quitting her job and volunteering full-time in her daughter's classroom.
Superintendent Barry Litun says there's no question area schools are facing severe cuts. He says the board made staffing a priority, even after a provincial funding squeeze a couple of years ago. They used millions in reserve funds to maintain staff levels, but he says that approach isn't sustainable for the coming year.
"One might say that had we reduced staff in the previous two years, the cuts would not be as severe in this year coming up. But our board's position has always been to use this year's funding for this year's students, and to maintain a reserve that is what we call modest," says Litun.
He says the board has tried to reduce the funding it funnels to administration, while increasing funding for students, even if the increase is small. He says students remain the biggest priority, and welcomes all parents to come to the public meeting Wednesday, May 25th, to get their questions answered.
"It's an opportunity for us to share the circumstances of the budget and share what the impacts will be, as well as our conversations with government," says Litun.
Cardinal-Gish says she's looking forward to having that conversation.
"This affects everyone, not just my daughter who has a disability, because the teachers are not going to have the time to teach. They're going to be dealing with behavioral issues instead of teaching our kids what they need to learn."