By Richard Leitner, News Staff
The Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board will run a $2.3-million deficit on its all-day kindergarten program next year because enrolment is projected to exceed provincial funding guidelines by 420 students this fall.
Trustees voted 7-4 to reject a staff recommendation to delay all-day kindergarten at four schools this September to prevent a current $1.5-million program deficit from growing by another $800,000 for the 2013-14 school year.
The board’s enrolment has exceeded the number of funded kindergarten students every year since the staged introduction of the all-day program began in the fall of 2011, when the deficit was $207,000.
Wards 1&2 trustee Judith Bishop blamed the growing gap on a funding formula that assumes only 85 per cent of families will choose to enroll their kids in junior kindergarten.
She said delaying the program for a year at the four schools – R.A. Riddell and Ray Lewis on the Mountain, Sir William Osler in Dundas and Mary Hopkins in Waterdown – is unfair to parents who have made family or job decisions in anticipation that it will be offered this fall.
All-day kindergarten is being rolled out over five years and the province has promised to remove the 85 per cent cap and fund every student in the final 2014-15 school year.
“I know what a serious thing this is for our board, but this is a problem that’s been created by the province. We’re underfunded,” Bishop said.
“We can’t turn back on promises we made. We know that that’s going to have a detrimental effect on families and children.”
But Alex Johnstone, who represents wards 11 and 12, said proceeding with the program at the four schools – chosen because they are large and in more affluent areas – will force cuts to special-education programs.
She said the board can send a stronger message to Queen’s Park by delaying the program and telling parents to call their MPP to complain about the funding formula.
“It is not fair to make cuts to the programs of some kids to shield and ensure the programming of other children. It’s like robbing Peter to pay Paul,” Johnstone said.
“We should not be having to pit our children against each other. What kind of value system is that?”
But west Mountain trustee Wes Hicks said the board “can’t turn the clock back” on a decision three years ago to run deficits rather than cut all-day kindergarten to match provincial funding.
“Some of us said three years ago that we were going to get caught down the road, but I’m not going to change my commitment to the program,” he said.
“We’re going to have to find the money in the budget. We found the money for the last three years; we’ll find it this year.”