Community concerned about changes to school division

Jodi
Jodi Schellenberg
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A decision made by Sask. Rivers School Division to phase out community school co-ordinators has drawn fire from the community.

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On Friday, the Saskatchewan Community Schools/Community Education Association found out the Sask. Rivers School Division was phasing out the Community School co-ordinators in Prince Albert during a meeting in Saskatoon.

Delphine Melchert, the executive director of the Saskatchewan Community Schools/Community Education Association said it was a bit of a shock to hear the news.

“The community co-ordinators had been called in at 3 p.m. for a meeting and told their positions were done and over as of June 27, 2014 and there would no longer be community school co-ordinators or community schools educational associates,” Melchert said. “When that news came in, there was a lot of concern that it may cause a domino effect across the province with other school divisions following suit because Sask. Rivers had been seen as such a leader in the area of community schools for so long.”

Sask. Rivers declined to comment until later in the week.

Melchert explained for many years Sask. Rivers School Division has been an example to other divisions of how a community school program should be set up and run.

After the news of the community school co-ordinators being laid off, Melchert said she was flooded with calls from concerned citizens.

“These were people in the community who were hearing the news and were just wondering what was going to happen,” Melchert said. “At that time I thought the proper protocol was to contact the trustees.

Since her organization provides support and communication for the community schools network in the province, Melchert contacted Sask. Rivers' board chair, Barry Hollick, and told him there were lots of concerns coming her way and she would like an opportunity to meet with the board to discuss the concerns.

“That is what I was telling people -- their concerns need to be addressed to the board of trustees because they are the people who made the decision and I could only relay the information as I heard it, which some of it may be accurate and some of it may not be,” Melchert said. “I subsequently heard from Robert Bratvold -- I did CC him on the memo -- and he said some of the information I was relaying was inaccurate as far as he was concerned.”

Sask. Rivers was on board to arrange a meeting with a small delegation to hear the concerns of the people in the community on Feb. 24.

“The delegation, they are recommending is a small one of two to four people so that means we can bring different concerns and questions that are out there in the community,” Melchert said. “I have many comments and concerns coming in, which I think rightly should be relayed to the board of trustees. We are meeting with the trustees with our presentation and following up on that that the board will be able to provide the community with satisfactory responses.”

There are 10 schools in the city with a community school designation from previous years, Melchert said.

The designation came with some perks, like a budget for nutrition, parent engagement and educational associations to work after schools, facilitating programs for sports, culture and socialization, as well as youth groups and adult education.

The idea for community schools came from a study done in the 1990s, Melchert said.

“Based on that study, the (government) felt that the community school program was so excellent, the practices of community education were so excellent, that they had recommended that all schools in Saskatchewan adopt a community school philosophy,” Melchert said.

Throughout the years, the priorities of the government changed and there were changes made to the school budgets.

“The government focus changed and they did a redistribution of funds and at that time they dropped the dedicated funding line for community schools,” Melchert said. “There were no longer funds that directed school divisions to spend that money in the diversity fund in a particular way.

“At that time, many of the schools knew the work of the community school co-ordinators and their team was so important that they tried to maintain what they had,” she added.

Since there have been changes made and the school divisions can decide how to allocate their diversity funds, Melchert said she believes that is all Sask. Rivers is doing -- exercising their right to make changes.

“I think that is what Sask. Rivers has decided to do -- they decided the work of the community school co-ordinator can be done by other people and they are going to take the funds that they were allocating to pay these individuals and use the funds in other ways,” Melchert said. “I cannot tell you how they are going to use the funds because that is one of the questions that will be directed to the trustees. I don’t have an answer for that.”

Melchert said they will be asking about why the school division feels the funds could be used in a different way, where they will be used instead and who is going to do the work instead of the community school co-ordinators.

“That is the part that is so confusing to so many in the community -- that role has been revered for many years in this community,” Melchert said. “These individuals have been seen as highly professional, skilled people who create a welcoming climate that has really led to a great comfort level for many displaced people who are coming to P.A. from other communities.”

The separate school division will be keeping their community school co-ordinators, Melchert said.

“Many other school divisions are following suite and know the value of the work the co-ordinators and those teams do,” Melchert said. “They bring in a lot of funds, they apply for grants and create partnerships -- the value of the co-ordinator far outweighs the cost of their wage. Many school divisions feel that way.”

She doesn’t want to cause problems with the school division, just find some answers for concerned citizens.

“We are not agitating, we are not trying to tell them what to do, we simply want to provide them with more information about how the community feels about it,” Melchert said.

Melchert said anyone who has questions can contact the Sask. Rivers School Division directly, but if they feel more comfortable contacting her, she can be contacted at 306-764-3389 or by email at wdmelchert@shaw.ca.

Organizations: Rivers School Division, Prince Albert, Saskatchewan Community Schools/Community Education Association

Geographic location: Saskatchewan, Saskatchewan Community, Saskatoon

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