06/20/2012 04:55 EDT | Updated 08/20/2012 05:12 EDT

Saskatoon cuts full-time, every-day kindergarten to deal with growth, diversity

SASKATOON - Budget tightening is forcing the Saskatoon Public Schools board to close the book on a program that helps vulnerable kids.

Chairman Ray Morrison said Wednesday that the board expects to save $1.3 million a year by cutting full-time, every-day kindergarten.

The program was introduced in Saskatoon in 2005 and targeted schools in communities where young people are more at risk — but it was never funded by the province.

"So every year we've been using our grant and tax money to fund that because we thought it made a significant difference in those children's lives," said Morrison.

"Even though we believe it's the right thing to do, if the province doesn't support it at this point in time and under the current budget scenario with the constraints we're under, we probably need to look at eliminating full-day, every-day kindergarten and that's the decision we came to."

"It was a very, very hard decision at the board table and one that we regretted deeply," he added.

Morrison said the school division got a seven per cent increase in funding this year from the province. However, 5.3 per cent of that went towards increased salaries for teachers, leaving the division with about a 1.7 per cent to cover everything else.

That's tough to do, he said, when inflation in Saskatoon is running at about two and a-half to three per cent.

Morrison also said the funding model doesn't appropriately address growth and diversity.

"We're seeing growth in Saskatoon public that the school division hasn't seen for decades," he said.

"And the other thing that's happening is we're seeing tremendous diversity in our student population as people migrate to Saskatoon from other parts of the country and other parts of the world, so we're seeing increased pressure on things like English as an additional language."

Saskatchewan Education Minister Russ Marchuk said school divisions have the autonomy to decide how to spend funding.

But he said the province does not fund full-time, daily kindergarten and there won't be any more money flowing to Saskatoon to save the program.

"Their budget is based on the Sept. 30th enrolment from the previous year and that is causing some issues with some of our boards where we are experiencing abnormal growth, so namely Saskatoon public and Catholic and Regina public and Catholic for sure, but there are some other ones," said Marchuk.

"And we have committed as a ministry to address that."

Marchuk said the ministry has spoken to the boards about the pressures and that "a technical forum" will be held after Sept. 30 to find a resolution.

In the meantime, Morrison said the division will be looking at other creative ways to try to help younger kids.

"But we'll continue to advocate for the province moving towards full-day, every-day kindergarten in the future."

— By Jennifer Graham in Regina

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