Yellowknife MLAs have met with the city’s three school boards ahead of a legislative session set to start next week.
The second assembly session this year will convene May 25. Up for discussion is Bill 16 which, if passed, will change the kindergarten age from five to four years, bring in junior kindergarten for all schools in the NWT, and reduce the minimum instructional hours for Grades 1 through 12 to 945 hours. Ahead of the session, city MLAs met with the Yellowknife Education District No. 1, Yellowknife Catholic Schools and Commission scolaire francophone des Territoires du Nord-Ouest over the past two weeks.
Both Yellowknife Education District No. 1 (Yk1) and Yellowknife Catholic Schools will implement junior kindergarten in the fall and the French school board will continue its junior kindergarten class which started last year. Leadership at all three boards indicated funding for inclusive schooling and aboriginal programming is still an issue.
Yk1 superintendent Metro Huculak said his district has a good working relationship with the Department of Education, Culture and Employment and he is confident the department, together with the health department, will be able to find a solution to the inclusive schooling funding.
Catholic Schools board chair Miles Welsh said while junior kindergarten is being portrayed by the government as fully funded, it is still missing important funding for inclusive schooling and aboriginal language and culture programming. This is a concern shared by Yvonnne Careen, superintendent of the french school board, noting the cost of care is higher for younger students.
On inclusive schooling, both Kam Lake MLA Kieron Testart and Yellowknife North MLA Cory Vanthuyne said they would push for full funding for inclusive schooling in junior kindergarten.
“It’s important to me to make sure that the inclusive schooling aspect of junior kindergarten is fully funded,” Vanthuyne said. “Because I’m also an individual who grew up with a learning disorder and needed particular attention, special education requirements, myself when I was going through the education system.”
Testart also noted the importance of funding aboriginal programming for junior kindergarten.
Schools will also be adjusting to reductions in instructional hours if Bill 16 is passed. Vanthuyne and Testart are in favour of this portion of the bill, yet as it is a pilot project Vanthuyne stressed the importance of including means of monitoring and measuring its success.
Whether funding for buses for junior kindergarten students will be provided by the GNWT still remains to be determined.
School boards are surveying parents registering their children for junior kindergarten on whether they require bus services. So far, 15 junior kindergarten students will require the service at Yk1, Huculak said, adding he doesn’t expect more than 25 will need it. The french school board has 12 registered students for junior kindergarten so far, but does not yet have the numbers of students who require bus service. The Catholic schools have 15 students who will require the service so far.
All three districts indicated some sort of solution is needed, regardless of what is decided in the legislature.
“If the bussing isn’t provided we have to make some decisions on that as well, because not everybody can get their kid to school at the drop of a hat,” Welsh said.
For Testart, bus service is less of a priority than inclusive schooling. He said the pricetag given by the bus company is very high and he estimates the junior kindergarten students using the service in Yellowknife won’t be more than 60.
“If the act says schools need to do this, we need to provide the bussing service, then that changes completely,” he said. “Then we have to find the money right because it’s a legal requirement to do so, but at this point if there’s no legal requirement to do so then I don’t think that’s a top priority to do so.”
Frame Lake MLA Kevin O’Reilly declined to comment for this story and told Yellowknifer he will share his position on education issues in next week’s session of the legislature. Yellowknife Centre MLA Julie Green also declined to comment.