A budget surplus of more than $200,000 is enabling Wolf Creek Public School (WCPS) board to move forward with a number of initiatives.
However, due to fiscal constraints and a lack of what trustees call “hard data,” not every initiative presented was given support or even discussed.
One option not given any money was a visitor monitoring equipment pilot presented by Mark McWhinnie, assistant superintendent of technology services.
McWhinnie proposed the pilot option in response to ongoing concerns over who’s entering school buildings.
The pilot would allow regular visitors to the schools to scan an ID card on a flat system similar to an iPad. Non-regular visitors would have to type in a number of security questions to receive a temporary ID.
“It’s simply a proactive response to a number of societal things happening in our society,” said McWhinnie.
McWhinnie told the trustees the pilot was coming to the board at a reduced cost and they should think about acting early, before the system became mandated and prices increased.
Trustee Bon Huff feels visitor and student monitoring is important but options focused on student achievement are a higher priority. “If we have some extra money how are we going to get the best bang for our buck. Maybe we need added security in our schools but at what expense?”
“We’re called public schools for a reason because our public should be welcome,” said trustee Lorrie Jess. However, Jess feels the situation is delicate due to incidences such as Sandy Hook or the threats made against Ponoka’s high school last December; parents want to know their children are safe at school.
“This will not be a priority before the financial picture turns around,” said secretary-treasurer Joe Henderson.
No money was given in the name of Pre-K programs either.
Wolf Creek school division has 18 schools providing kindergarten programs, five running a play school under the division’s umbrella but only one true Pre-K program.
A Pre-K program is classified as every student involved is registered and also a program funded unit (PUF) student. PUF students are those with extreme disabilities.
“The little Pre-K people are in need of some help,” said Huff. He illustrated his point saying many PUF students are delayed in learning and simple concepts such as using scissors cannot be grasped without support. Without Pre-K support kindergarten becomes more difficult for them to navigate, leading to frustrations and escalating to behavioral and other problems.
Trustee Barb Walker says Pre-K is a good preventative initiative rather than having teachers and other resources straining to support students in higher grades for issues that could have been targeted years before.
Amber Hester, assistant superintendent of student services, told the board there are approximately 85 PUF students division-wide. The trustees decided not to look into funding until the fall when more data for the upcoming year is available.
21st Century Learning
The 21st Century Learning (U21C) project was given another $50,000 out of next year’s budget.
“It would be used to continue to support every school,” said McWhinnie.
In the upcoming year every school across the division is going to have technology coaches.
Huff says this is a necessary expenditure since schools are becoming more digital and the ministry is pushing to have exams administered online. “If we’re going to set out students up for success we need to introduce them to the digital products out there.”
Another technology-based initiative the board funded at $30,000 was video conferencing in the classroom.
Eight years ago WCPS received a provincial grant to include video conferencing in high school programs. “We were very successful with that,” said McWhinnie.
However, over the eight years the program has continually been subsidized, with an average shortfall of approximately $30,000 per year.
Both McWhinnie and Gerry Varty, assistant superintendent of learning support and system improvement, want learning support rather than technology services to maintain the program.
To assure the board the funding and program are creating results, the trustees were told that math 30 level courses were producing higher grades through video conferencing than through traditional learning.