Trustees voice school fee concerns

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Pembina Hills Public Schools trustees passed a motion during their June 27 meeting to submit a letter to the education minister outlining their concerns with Bill 1, the legislation that eliminated school fees.

The motion was made following a presentation on the 2017-2018 operating budget, during which time secretary-treasurer Tracy Meunier delved further into the problems arising from Bill 1.

Meunier said Pembina Hills has always strived to minimize school fees, noting there are various fundraising societies and parent groups around the division that help pay for sports teams and fieldtrips.

As well, they work with communities to ensure educational opportunities are not denied students if they can’t pay, she said.

Shortly after Bill 1 received royal assent in early May, the province introduced two corresponding regulations.

Among other things, the regulation specifies that schools must have a schedule of every fee they will charge in the following school year posted online by the end of May.

“Having it in a regulation makes it law. Therefore, the pressure is on schools to anticipate everything that could happen,” said Meunier.

However, requiring schools to anticipate all activities that could potentially take place the following year “doesn’t seem reasonable,” she said.

“There’s just things that you will never anticipate,” Meunier added.

Take, for example, a high school basketball team. The coach doesn’t know from one year to the next what tournaments they will be invited to, or even how many players they will have on the team, which also affects costs.

“So at the beginning of May, you have to take a look at your entire next year and try to estimate. For what purpose?” Meunier asked.

She said it is highly likely schools will over-estimate their costs just to make sure they have enough money to work with, which could create communication problems with parents.

In addition, the act regulations also require that divisions put in place policies around school fees and to get all new fees approved by the province.

Board chair Jennifer Tuininga said she was drafting a letter and asked if Meunier could estimate the extra time it has taken schools and the division office to put together the schedule of fees for a June 30 deadline.

“I’d like to put it in there this was a very busy time of year, and this was extra workload,” said Tuininga.

Meunier said each school has estimated the extra workload was between 15 to 25 hours, while the time spent on estimating fees at the central office was about 80 to 100 hours.

Meunier said that about 350 hours have been spent to meet the requirements of the Bill 1 regulations.

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