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Controversial school program fees averted for now in Seine River

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Trustees in the Seine River School Division have voted against controversial cost savings that would charge parents for a kindergarten-age school program and bussing service midway through the school year.

Due to budget issues, the division told parents it would need to introduce new fees in January for a half-day kindergarten program called Kids at Play (KAP) and for the bussing service for K-4 students.

Both programs have been offered to parents at no cost.

READ MORE: Parents angry at new school program fees

During a divisional board meeting Tuesday night, parents told trustees they were shocked and blindsided by the news.

Sarah Rout, who runs the St. Adolphe Childcare Centre, warned the fees would put a further strain on daycare staff and make waitlists even longer.

"Parents will be forced to take their children to daycares and eventually schools in the city where most of us work, pulling kids out of school in St. Adolphe and other parts of rural Manitoba," Rout said.

Trustees also raised concerns about the fees.

"I think that this is a really tough decision, and quite frankly, I've never sat in the hot seat like this before where we've had to make such a nasty cut. But I think we can do better," said Trustee Theresa Bergson.

She also worried requiring fees for this program would create a have-and-have-not system, as some in the community could afford the fees while others could not.

"I still feel that we need to look a little deeper."

Trustees also questioned how much money this measure would save, after the board heard from administration it would be lenient with the fees – not charging interest on unpaid fees or collecting them for at least a year.

In the end, the board voted not to proceed with the fees for the KAP program and K-4 bussing.

However, not all trustees agreed on the matter. Trustee Marinus Van Osch told the rest of the board they can't be the social conscience of society.

"That's the government's job. That is their role," he said. "If they want to fund KAP, please come to the table and fund KAP, I'll accept it. But they're not because it's not important enough to them."

He warned the alternative to these cost-saving measures is cutting staff.

"Because we haven't done our job this year, it's going to accumulate into next year – those already reality checks that we need to start facing," he said, adding in his view the board should cut the whole KAP program.

However several trustees questioned if they could find the cost savings from elsewhere in the division's budget, and tasked administration to report back with ideas.

The entire situation has given little closure to staff in the division.

"We have a lot of uncertainty there, that is of great concern to teachers in Seine River," said Jonathan Waite, the president of the Seine River Teachers' Association, which represents 355 staff in the division.

Waite said his email inbox and text messages are full of questions from members. He said they still don't know what other cost-saving measures the division will implement and why.

"We're just taking each day as it comes," he said. "And I'm doing my very best to support members through this by trying to find answers to their questions, however I can find them."

-with files from CTV's Dan Vadeboncoeur 

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